[WATCH] Retired judge Giovanni Bonello to spearhead PN party financing commission

Simon Busuttil says commission will propose 'radical changes' in party financing laws, PN will take all its proposals on board

Simon Busuttil (front)
Simon Busuttil (front)

The Nationalist Party has set up an independent commission spearheaded by former judge Giovanni Bonello to come up with proposals on party financing.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil told the press that the PN will include in its electoral manifesto all of the board’s proposals, no matter what they are.

“I did not create this mess, and I want to clean it up. I will announce the members and terms and references of the board in the coming hours,” he said. “The board will be tasked with proposing radical changes in the political system particularly with regards the financing of political parties and politicians.”

He also reiterated that he is favour of a system through which the state finances political parties.

Busuttil’s announcement came in the wake of a controversy sparked by hotelier Silvio Debono’s claim that he has been forking out the monthly salaries of the PN’s secretary general Rosette Thake and its CEO Brian St John.

Debono owns the DB Group, which will be developing a €300 million Hard Rock Hotel and luxury real estate properties on the site currently occupied by the Institute of Tourism Studies. The PN has questioned why Debono will only fork out €15 million for prime public land that has been valued at €200 million, and has referred the deal to the National Audit Office for investigation.

Speaking to the press ahead of a visit to the University this afternoon, Busuttil again denied that Debono is paying his officials’ salaries and said that his claim amounted to a threat to the PN after it referred the case to the NAO.

Debono has claimed that DB Group paid MediaLink €70,800 – money that “top PN officials” had told him would be used to cover Thake’s and St John’s salaries. Busuttil said that such payment amounts to commercial information between Debono and the PN’s media arm, but that he himself has personally seen the invoices and that they include VAT details.

He vehemently denied that the PN is significantly funded by large donations from businessmen – noting that around 90% of the €1 million or so that the PN received in donations last year were small donations of €50 or less.

“Even if the PN was financed by businessmen, this incident still proves that I will not allow any business to silence me through their donations,” he said.

Busuttil added that he had personally met up with Silvio Debono on several occasions, most recently a few weeks ago when the hotelier had showed him a presentation of his plans for the ITS project.

“On another occasion, he had informed me of his commercial relations with MediaLink. The crucial point is that I didn’t allow any of this to influence my sense of political justice.”

He also dismissed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s claim that the long time – almost 24 hours - it took him to react to Debono’s shocking allegations was an indication of guilt.

“Do you consider 24 hours to be a long time? The Panama scandal erupted over a year ago and Muscat has still not taken any action. The reason I waited is because I had requested information from the party on the donations in question. I wanted to verify the facts before speaking out.”

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