Busuttil claims all PL officials are on government payroll

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil refutes criticism over party's donations from db Group, says he would not accept donations as blackmail

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has refuted criticism over donations the Nationalist Party solicited and received from the db Group, claiming that the Labour Party officials who took the PN to task were on the government payroll.

Busuttil, who insisted that the money donated to the Nationalist Party by Silvio Debono’s hotel company was all legal and compliant with party financing laws, sought to turn the tables on the Labour Party by accusing the government of providing jobs to its own party employees and executives.

“The PL officials who have criticised the PN for receiving donations from individuals are on the government payroll, whose salary actually comes from taxpayers money. Former Labour deputy leader Toni Abela received close to €100,000 from the government, executive secretary Lydia Abela received €90,000, while CEO Gino Cauchi had a full-time job at Castille,” Busuttil said.

The Nationalist Party has also claimed that the beneficiaries of the salarires include PL international secretary Marc Vella Bonnici, organisational secretary William Lewis, and councils section president Mario Fava.

Speaking to PN faithful in Paola, the PN leader sought to defend the donations that the party accepted or solicited from the db Group – the owners of the Seabank hotel whom the PN have criticised over having clinched a lucrative concession for land at St George’s Bay.

“Political parties in Malta live on these donations. Millions are required every year, so we continuously ask individuals, business people and professionals to donate money to the party. We cannot live without them … we depend on donations. The truth of the matter is that without donations, political parties would not exist.”

“The donations the Nationalist Party received were all legal and were used to pay off its debts. On the other hand, the Labour Party has yet to register as a political party and yet to declare the donations it received,” he said.

Notwithstanding the party’s dependence on donations, Busuttil insisted that donations ought to be given only if people truly believe in the PN, and not in exchange for any favours.

“I will not accept donations as blackmail. Donations ought to be given only by those individuals who truly believe in what the party represents … Any donations received by the party do not influence its decisions. My answer is clear, I will not allow any donation to buy me. I am not for sale, and no donation will influence my political judgment.”

“That is why I was shocked and angry when the db Group’s CEO [Arthur Gauci] demanded an urgent meeting so the PN pays the donations back. I saw this as blackmail and a threat for the PN to either shut up or pay back the donations it received,” he said.

Busuttil’s comments were made after his party was revealed to have accepted donations from the db Group. The Group’s CEO, Arthur Gauci, said that the company had been asked to pay the salaries of the PN secretary-general Rosette Thake and CEO Brian St John in 2016.

The PN has since refuted the claims, claiming that it had only received €3,500 as donations from the group, while two companies of which Debono is a shareholder had paid MediaLink – the PN’s media arm – a sum total of €70,800 as part of a commercial transaction. The business group has denied and reiterated that the money was donated to cover the salaries of the PN officials.

Explaining his decision to reveal the SMS he received from Gauci, Busuttil said he could have easily taken the easy way by keeping it under wraps and having a quiet word with the business group behind closed doors.

“I could have opted to say nothing, but instead I made it clear that I would not be bought, and I would do it again … The real question is how much money the PL received in exchange for the ITS land,” he said.

The Opposition leader also denied that the PN is significantly funded by large donations from businessmen, arguing that the majority of donations received by the party last year were of €50 or less.

Turning his attention on the setting up of an independent commission led by Judge Giovanni Bonello to propose changes in party financing laws, the PN leader said the revelations presented an opportunity to radically change the financing of political parties and politicians.

“The recent revelations have presented an opportunity to change the current system of party financing system. Parties should no longer be made to depend on donations, but a fairer system should be implemented through which political parties are financed by the state,” he continued.

Describing the Auditor General, Charles Deguara, as being one of the few remaining “truly independent” officials, Busuttil said the PN had asked Deguara to investigate the transfer of the ITS site because of its value and because the government had failed to obtain a parliamentary resolution prior to the transfer.

“The Paceville masterplan had put the value of the site at €200 million, while an independent valuation estimated the land at €60 million. However, the government transferred the land to the db Group for a mere €15 million … Public land is not owned by Joseph Muscat or Konrad Mizzi, but by the public, and it is for this reason that the Opposition asked the Auditor General to investigate the deal,” Busuttil said.