Muscat takes Busuttil to task over De Marco’s ITS ‘conflict of interest’

Joseph Muscat: ‘If Simon Busuttil thinks the ITS contract is corrupt, does he also think that Mario de Marco is corrupt?’

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses the party faithful in Senglea
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses the party faithful in Senglea

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat challenged Simon Busuttil to reveal the extent of his prior knowledge about his deputy leader Mario de Marco’s apparent conflict of interest as legal advisor to the DB Group on its St George’s Bay project.

Addressing Labour supporters in Isla, Muscat argued that the Opposition leader has lambasted the ITS contract as corrupt, and questioned whether this – by extension – betrays his belief that de Marco is corrupt too.

Guido de Marco & Associates, of which Mario de Marco is a partner, was engaged by SD Finance PLc – a newly created public limited company owned by the developers of the DB San Gorg, on the site of the Institute of Tourism Studies.

De Marco has confirmed with MaltaToday that he had personally attended several meetings dealing with the concession of the St George’s land, which Silvio Debono’s DB Group will develop into a Hard Rock Hotel and luxury property believed to encompass a €300 million investment.

In the face of media pressure, the legal firm renounced its brief as advisors on the project.

Muscat suggested that internal pressure is rife within the Nationalist Party, and that de Marco was targetted as a way of turning the spotlight away from fellow deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami in the wake of the Capital One inquiry.

“As soon as the hot potato of Beppe Fenech Adami popped up, something fantastic happened within the PN,” he said. “Instead of turning the cannons onto me as they usually do, they turned them onto Mario de Marco.

He also suggested that other high-ranking PN officials have similar conflicts of interest, and questioned whether Busuttil is aware of them and whether he will take action.

In his speech, Muscat also challenged Beppe Fenech Adami to request an audit on himself in the wake of the results of an inquiry into the police’s handling of the CapitalOne money laundering case. Fenech Adami was the director of Baltimore Fiduciary, which owned CapitalOne as a nominee company.

Muscat recounted how PL’s former treasurer Joe Cordina was the director of a fiduciary company that held the shareholding of Aikon Ltd, to hide the identity of its beneficial owner – the rogue oil trader George Farrugia who was implicated in the oil scandal.

“Back then, Fenech Adami had said that it was irrelevant whether Cordina had known what was going on [at Aikon] or not, and that the fact he was mentioned at all by itself merited his resignation. Back then, Cordina withdrew his election candidature like a man and know Fenech Adami is in the exact same situation.”

‘Busuttil brought divisive tactics to PN’

Muscat also accused Busuttil of personally introducing a style of divisive and partisan politics to the Nationalist Party and claimed that he was the mastermind behind the PN’s infamous 2013 election billboard that depicted a red-faced Muscat side by side with a blue-faced Lawrence Gonzi.

Joseph Muscat claimed that Simon Busuttil was the brains behind the PN's 2013 billboard
Joseph Muscat claimed that Simon Busuttil was the brains behind the PN's 2013 billboard

“It was a very divisive symbol, and I often wondered why the PN chose to use it in the midst of an election campaign,” he said. “However, when I heard Busuttil’s recent speeches, I reached the conclusion that he was responsible for convincing Gonzi to go down that route. In fact, the billboard was launched a few weeks after Busuttil was appointed deputy leader…as soon as he entered the scene, the PN embarked upon a divisive strategy.”

The Prime Minister insisted that he doesn’t care about people’s political allegiances and that he has stuck by his “tista’ ma taqbilx maghna izda tista’ tahdem maghna’ pledge.

“I am often criticised for leaving Nationalists in top public jobs, but I am simply doing what I had promised. In contrast, Busuttil will kick out everyone who disagrees with him – the police commissioner, the AFM brigadier, the American University of Malta, Shanghai Electric, Electrogas…it’s a divisive and vindictive attitude and it’s one that the public will soon reject once and for all.”

‘Time to debate spaced-out maternity leave’

Muscat started his speech by calling for a public debate on “revolutionary” ideas aimed at bridging the social gap between men and women in Malta, notably including giving women a choice to space out their maternity leave.

“Instead of forcing women to take their maternity leave all at once, why can’t they be given the choice to – for example – take one month’s leave as soon as the baby is born, go back to work, and then take another month’s maternity leave later on?” he questioned. “We must start discussing the possibility of spreading out maternity leave in a manner that will truly strengthen the family.”

His second proposal was for couples to be given the choice to combine their maternity and paternity leave entitlement.

“Perhaps the mother is the breadwinner while the father can afford to take a month off work…these may sound like out-of-the-world ideas but they already exist in other countries.”

Without offering specific details, he also pledged that Labour will in its manifesto come up with proposals aimed at encouraging more women to stand in general elections.

“We must ask ourselves why we have a substantial amount of female MEPs and councilors but very few MPs,” he said.

In an earlier speech, the president of the Labour Party’s women branch (Nisa Laburisti) blamed the shortage of female MPs on Parliament’s late hours – typically from 6pm till 9:30pm.

“The current hours are a barrier that is hindering women from standing for general elections, as it forces them to choose between spending their evenings at Parliament or with their families,” Claudette Abela Baldacchino said. “Our society must take all necessary measures to break down these obstacles.”

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