Busuttil: Prime Minister has lost moral authority to remove Bartolo

Leader of the Opposition says it is ironic that Education minister Evarist Bartolo had called on Konrad Mizzi to resign during the Panama Papers scandal when it now clear that he already knew about allegations of corruption in his own ministry at the time

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has called on Evarist Bartolo to resign if he really believes that the law should be the same for everyone
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has called on Evarist Bartolo to resign if he really believes that the law should be the same for everyone

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has said that the Prime Minister no longer has the moral authority to take action on matters of corruption because of his handling of the Panama Papers scandal.

“It is understandable that, after the Prime Minister’s Chief of staff and a minister were caught opening accounts in Panama with no consequences, there is nothing stopping everyone else,” he said.  

Busuttil was speaking in Parliament as the House debated a bill on standards in public life, where he said that it was ironic that parliament was debating the bill, given the surreal situation the government finds itself in, where corruption goes unchallenged.

The results of this, he said was that people were losing faith in politicians. Busuttil said people in the street were wondering what the full of extent of the government’s corruption is.

“People are wondering whether these are only the things we have found out about, the tip of the iceberg,” said Busuttil

The Opposition leader accuesed the government of hijacking institutions, adding that they now worked for the government and not the people.

Referring to statements made by Education minister Evarist Bartolo during the Panama Papers scandal, Busuttil isaid that the country cannot have different sets of laws for different people, adding that it was ironic that when Bartolo made his comments, he had already known about corruption going on at the Foundation for the Schools of Tomorrow (FTS).

“A lot was said about the introduction of the whistleblower act, but when Evarist Bartolo was informed of corruption, the police were sent to investigate the whistleblower,” said Busuttil.

Referring a report published in MaltaToday last Sunday, Busuttil pointed out that the case goes further back than April, and that there had already been complaints made last year, about a person who he had appointed as a person of trust.

Busuttil questioned how Bartolo had allowed things to reach a stage where former FTS CEO Philip Rizzo was forced to resign from his post and go the police as a private citizen.

He insisted that the case in question was serious because it was a criminal one, that revolves around a canvasser, and long-time friend of minister.

Busuttil said that if Bartolo has any decency and if he truly feels that the law should be equal for all, then he should resign.

He said that since the Prime Minister and Bartolo had already made it clear that the latter would not be resigning, that it was now up to electorate to ensure that Bartolo is removed and concluded by saying that the government had already gone against the bill being discussed before it was even approved. 

 

Bartolo Strikes Back

 

The minister emphasised the importance of the bill being discussed and said that politicians had an obligation to act responsibly, especially when using public funds because they were using money that people had worked very hard to earn.

He sarcastically said that admits that he is a dirty politician because his pen had burst in his pocket, leaving him covered in ink.

Bartolo accused the Opposition of hypocrisy in their criticism of him.

“When the Auditor General had issued a report on an investigation into the  Foundation for the schools of tomorrow during the past legislature, he was attacked for doing so,” said Bartolo.

The minister reiterated that nobody working in his ministry enjoyed his protection. He said that the emails he tabled in parliament showed that he had acted responsibly.

He said that when he received complaints from suppliers, on the 23 August, he asked for an internal inquiry into the accounts. On September 1, he asked Philip Rizzo to remove Caruana completely from the FTS and to go to the police.

“I had to be responsible in what I said because I was aware of the great animosity between the two [Caruana and Rizzo]. Since I was aware of this animosity, I wanted to gather more information before taking any steps,” he said.

He referred to another communication where he told Rizzo to treat him like any other employee, ‘fair but firm’. He said that upon hearing the allegations, he had asked for no payments to be made, insisting that FTS should get to the bottom of what was happening.

“I then told Edward Bonello to investigate and gave instructions for a police report to be filed,” he said.  

The minister said that despite the attacks levelled against him he remains a calm and sensible person, adding however that if attacked, he will attack back.

Bartolo recounted the biblical parable about the Pharisees who took an adulterer to the temple. He said that Jesus in that instance, had told them that whoever amongst them had no sins should cast the first stone.

“It’s a good thing that none of the Ultra-Pharisees from the other bench where there because the woman would surely have been stoned to death,” said Bartolo.  

He accused the leader of the Opposition of having double standards himself and that the real test of good governance is when a party is in government, and that the Opposition had definitely failed that test.  

“They had the cheek to come here and suggest that I told to investigate a whistleblower when Busuttil and Chris Said had in fact done just that then they were informed about corruption. How can I take them seriously, how can I take these Pharisees seriously?” said Bartolo.

Turning to shadow minister Beppe Fenech Adami he said that he had not explained the million Euro in his bank account and said that there was still the matter of an ongoing investigation into alleged interference in a police investigation that was looking into money laundering by a fiduciary company that Fenech Adami was the director of.   

“If politics continues in this way, there is a real danger that people will lose faith in it. This type of behaviour is what causes the rise of populist movements,” concluded Bartolo. 

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