Leo Brincat ‘considered resigning’ from Cabinet during Panama Papers debacle • Nomination approved

Brincat expresses satisfaction at having obtained the approval of the majority of committee members • Faced with questions over his decision to support embattled minister Konrad Mizzi in the midst of Panama Papers revelations, Leo Brincat reminds European Parliament that he had ‘no choice’ • Says if he were Mizzi he would have 'stepped down or suspended himself from parliamentary group' • Nomination approved

Leo Brincat, former minister for the environment
Leo Brincat, former minister for the environment

Former environment minister Leo Brincat considered resigning from the Cabinet of ministers back when the government was grappling with revelations that former energy minister Konrad Mizzi – today a minister within the Office of the Prime Minister – set up a Panama offshore company through Mossack Fonseca to hide his beneficial ownership while in office.

“I considered resigning but it didn’t make sense because that would only make you a voice in the wilderness. It could make you a hero for a day, and be despised by others ... but ultimately it only renders you without a voice,” Brincat told European MPs during his hearing as a nominee to the European Court of Auditors.

“But, by continuing to work within the structures, you are in a position to exert influence internally.”

The grilling, which lasted some 45 minutes, saw a calm and composed Brincat who spoke in English and who was very decisive in his replies. His nomination was approved with 11 votes in favour, nine against and an abstention.

Brincat told MaltaToday he was extremely satisfied at having obtained the approval of the majority of the committee members as that had been his main objective all along.

He said that he could not fault the line of questioning he had to undergo during the hearing, even if some questions were not on subject.

“Members of the European Parliament have the right to question nominees on various subjects in a bid to gain a measure of their character and to determine whether the nominees can be trusted,” he said.

Brincat said he could not – and would not – have stopped the committee members’ line of questioning.

“The questions put to me allowed me to further ascertain and demonstrate my integrity and independence, the two characteristics that I feel are of the essence in any appointment such as this,” he said.

Brincat's grilling immediately kicked off with questions on Panama Papers with the committee questioning how they would trust him, as a member of the European Court of Auditors, if he were to investigate Malta or a member of the Maltese government.

Back in April, when the government was facing a no confidence motion in parliament filed by former backbencher Marlene Farrugia, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told reporters that free votes were for “matters of conscience”. This effectively gave the parliamentary group no other option but to toe the party line.

“It was not a matter for discussion,” Brincat told MEPs, as he went on to explain Malta’s parliamentary system which sets out “specific rules” from MPs who breach directives and could result in a suspension from the parliamentary group.

“This shows I had no choice … but I will clarify one point: I made various categorical statements in the media and I publicly warned that, if these kind of mistakes take place, my government risked demolishing its success. I don’t think you can be more categorical than that.”

Brincat went on to add that Muscat himself was pushing society to be “aspirational”. “It’s good to be aspirational, but you also need to be inspirational to show people that you attach importance to good governance,” he added.

Asked how he would have acted in Mizzi’s position, the former environment minister said he would have considered two options: either resign or suspend himself from the parliamentary group until his name would be cleared.

“There are legal issues but there also matters which are purely ethical and which are equally important.”

Questioned as to whether he could truly be independent of outside influence, Brincat said that even when chairing parliament's public accounts committee, he had stressed the importance of the committee's independence.

"And when setting up the Environment Authority, I had insisted that its autonomy be the top priority if it were to fulfil its legal remit," he said. "I had always said that the authority should work to be the citizens' watchdog and not government's lapdog."

Brincat was also asked why the Maltese government had failed to publish contracts like the power station contract and whether he agreed with such practice.

He said that, when large, 'mega-contracts' were involved, some discretion was to be expected.

"But I expect the government to respect the schedules announced for the publication of such contracts," he insisted.

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