Updated | Radical change in political system needed to eradicate corruption - Busuttil

PN leader says re-electing Joseph Muscat would mean five more years of ‘rampant corruption’ • Labour says Busuttil not defending Mario de Marco in the same way he had stood by Beppe Fenech Adami following CapitalOne inquiry

A radical change in the country’s political system and party financing is needed to completely eradicate corruption, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil underlined today.

Speaking on Radio 101, PN leader Simon Busuttil, whose party is being accused of breaching party financing rules due to donations it received and solicited from Silvio Debono’s db Group, which the PN has criticised over having clinched a lucrative concession for land at St George’s Bay, said a future Nationalist administration would seek ways to change the political system, including having full-time MPs.

“The PN will try and change the political system to truly eradicate corruption. If need be, political parties should no longer receive donations to ensure that they are not used to condition a party’s stand. I will never accept donations influence my judgment or my party’s but other parties may feel inclined to do so,” Busuttil said.

Moreover, Busuttil, who had justified accepting donations from the db Group by arguing that political parties presently rely on donations for their existence, also suggested that he was open to the idea of reforming the parliamentary system with full-time MPs.

“Should we offer part-time politicians the choice to become employed as full-time MPs? Should we move towards a [political] system which completely eradicates corruption?” Busuttil said.

Presently, MPs retain their right to continue in their profession, but this has at time created blatant conflicts of interest. This was best exposed by PN deputy leader Mario de Marco’s involvement in the negotiations between government and his clients db Group, over the controversial transfer of land in St Julian’s to the company.

Speaking in the wake of a MaltaToday survey which showed that under the Labour Party, concern on corruption reached an all-time high, the Opposition leader said corruption in Malta was a “huge concern” as it had become “rampant under [prime minister] Joseph Muscat.”

“If corruption is not immediately tackled, Malta would face huge problems. The country cannot take another five years under Joseph Muscat; it cannot deal with five more years of blatant corruption. Re-electing the Labour Party would give Joseph Muscat the licence to do as he pleases and would give the government the licence to not only open companies in Panama, but to also stash money in them,” he said.

According to the latest results of the MaltaToday survey, 30% of respondents mentioned corruption as the country’s greatest problem. Although nearly two-thirds of those who mentioned corruption as a main issue are PN voters, concern on corruption has also increased by three points for PL voters, 12% of whom consider corruption as one of the main problems facing the country.

“Corruption in Malta has become a huge worry because it directly involves Castille. Our prime minister works in the same office with [OPM of staff] Keith Schembri and [minister] Konrad Mizzi, who have both admitted to opening companies in Panama,” he said.

Insisting that a Nationalist government would “truly eradicate corruption”, Busuttil said a Nationalist government said the party had learned several losses since its loss in the March 2013 general election.

“I want to bring the change that people had been promised and the change that people voted for … People are seeing the big picture and will vote for the Nationalist Party because they want to eradicate corruption.”

“After electing Labour the power, the country realised that it had been taken for a ride and the things that were promised were not delivered. People wanted change and instead they got corruption. I want to give them a government which ensures security, tranquility and an equal opportunity for everyone to succeed, irrespective of their political allegiance,” he said.

The Opposition leader also pledged that if elected, a Nationalist administration would reintroduce a level playing field for all citizens in the country, irrespective of their political allegiance, and all businesses would be given equal opportunities.

“People are being shunned and opportunities are limited to those people whom the government wishes to employ. This government has not only abandoned the notion of meritocracy, it is actively going against it,” he said.

Similarly, he said businesses were being ignored by the government or snubbed in favour of those with ties to the government.

“Businesses are no longer applying for government tenders anymore because they already know who is going to win them before the bidding has even begun. Is that pro-business? This is why there should be a level playing field for all,” he said.

The Opposition leader also said that the law was not being applied equally to everyone, arguing that it was “horrific” that two Gozitan youths who were implicated in drug trafficking were subsequently let off the hook after the intervention of two Labour politicians. 

Labour Party reaction

In a reaction, the Labour Party accused Busuttil of lying and claimed that he was not defending embattled PN deputy leader Mario de Marco in the same way as he had defended fellow deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami in the aftermath of the CapitalOne inquiry.

The board of inquiry tasked with investigating the way Maltese police handled the CapitalOne money laundering case, had declared it cannot exclude the possibility that the criminal investigation failed to gather steam when the name of Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami cropped up in January 2013.

“Whereas Simon Busuttil is insistent on defending Beppe Fenech Adami, who was a director of a company implicated in money laundering, he is continuing to attack the €300 million investment on the ITS site which Mario de Marco had negotiated with the government,” it said.

Mario de Marco has been under fire in the wake of revelations that he had served as legal advisor to hotelier Silvio Debono during his negotiations with the government in securing a 99-year concession on the ITS land. De Marco has since apologised.

Moreover, minister Konrad Mizzi, under whose purview Projects Malta negotiated the ITS concession with the db Group, said de Marco personally attended meetings at Castille and negotiated contract on behalf of db Group.

“Simon Busuttil has once again emerged as being fake as he had personally asked the same investors [db Group] to finance the Nationalist Party and pay the salaries of the PN secretary general [Rosette Thake] and the party’s CEO [Brian St John],” the Labour Party said.

The PL also called on the Opposition to come clean on the invoices it issued to the db Group, insisting that the PN issued “fake and illegal” invoices to Sky Gourmet, a subsidiary of db Group owned by Silvio Debono.