Updated | Godfrey Farrugia resigns as government whip, stays on as backbencher

Godfrey Farrugia: 'The people's faith in a historic Labour ideal should never have been betrayed and used to advance the agenda of a few people who clearly don't have the national interest at heart'

Godfrey Farrugia, a former minister under the current administration, has resigned as whip of the parliamentary group
Godfrey Farrugia, a former minister under the current administration, has resigned as whip of the parliamentary group

Godfrey Farrugia has announced that he will resign as the Labour Party's Whip in the wake of the latest reports that the Prime Minister’s wife owns an offshore Panama company. He will stay on as a member of the Labour Party's parliamentary group.

In a strongly worded open letter to Joseph Muscat, the Haz-Zebbug family doctor said that the allegations hurt him because he treasures his country.

“I deliberated this decision at length, I even had some sleepless nights, and I remembered the first speeches I had given in Parliament,” he wrote. “I voted as a Whip, even when I was asked to vote against my own conscience.

“The public’s faith in a historic Labourite ideal should never have been betrayed and used to advance the agenda of a few people, who clearly don’t have the national interest at heart, let alone in their minds.

“Civil tools and mechanisms exist, and I am convinced that we will be able to change the country’s direction around in the final year of this legislature,” he said. “To achieve this aim, the government must take on a composition that will see it regain its lost credibility.”

Godfrey Farrugia was appointed health minister upon Labour’s election 2013, but stepped down a year later and was replaced by Konrad Mizzi. He was appointed Whip of the Labour Party’s parliamentary group in 2015. In a brief reaction to the resignation, Joseph Muscat praised Farrugia for his work as Whip and announced that Anthony Agius Decelis has been appointed as acting Whip.

Farrugia confirmed that he will stay on as a Labour MP, to try and pressure Muscat to change his direction. 

“I hope that I can bring the party leadership to its senses so that it stops using the people to protect its own power.”

In his open letter, Farrugia said that he had sensed the “hidden agenda” of people close to the Prime Minister from early on in Labour’s legislature. 

“I never expected us to be perfect, because we are humans after all and we all make mistakes. However, it was a different story altogether when we started justifying our mistakes and started calling right what was wrong.

“Although the direction was often not illegal, it had circumvented the law.”

He warned that the Office of the Prime Minister had started centralising power in its hands after the Panama Papers scandal erupted last year, and that some Labour officials and supporters had done their utmost to deny him media coverage.

“I worked close to you, I expressed my beliefs to you in a genuine manner but I can’t say that you always took heed of what I said. I wished you good, but I couldn’t always understand your rationale.

“I suffered in silence and I forgave these people, but as a Whip I always remained loyal and worked responsibly for what is right. I never liked the political game of illusions, let alone the intrigue of a Machiavellian, post-truth, and hypocritical game.”

PN reacts to Farrugia’s resignation

In a press conference held on Saturday, PN deputy leader Mario Demarco listed the points raised in Farrugia’s resignation letter. Amongst the most serious accusations, Demarco said, was that Malta had reached a point where it was being brought into disrepute abroad, right as it is hosting the EU presidency. The people’s trust in Labour’s ideals was betrayed, Demarco read, and the agenda of a few who do not have the national interest at heart was being pushed instead.

“Who was he referring to here? Why was he saying the ideals were being betrayed? I think the answers lie in the same letter.”

The country had reached an important crossroads, Demarco said. “It is no longer an argument between the PN and the PL, it is no longer a dispute between the ideals of the PN and the PL, “because the ideals of the Labour Party are being betrayed by the very same leaders of the PL.”

“ The movement that Joseph Muscat had given birth to before the last election was not betrayed by the deputies, but by the leadership of the party. This is being said by Dr. Godfrey Farrugia who was the party whip.”

Demarco appealed to persons of goodwill of all ideological beliefs to come together and “join the national force.”

“We are talking about values which are the most basic and also the most important. Truth. Honesty. A new movement must be created, a new force that unites all persons of good will. I make this appeal to all genuine Labourites who like Dr. Farrugia, feel betrayed by the actions of the Labour leadership.”

“These Labourites, who worked so hard for their party. Their party deserves better”

“Now’s the moment to stand up to be counted, because our country truly deserves a different leadership, a better leadership.”

PN whip David Agius, speaking after Demarco praised Farrugia’s words, saying they had caught him by surprise. “These are hard words being said by the Labour whip...it means that there are people inside the PL who have been asked to vote against their conscience.”

“These are words that are coming from a government whip who attends government cabinet meetings...as the deputy leader said, this is a moment where the Maltese population is worried and are asked to come together as one.”

One of the most vocal internal critics of the Labour administration, Farrugia had called on Konrad Mizzi to resign in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, had criticised the government’s decision to grant public land at Zonqor Point for the construction of a private university, and had come out against its decision to revoke Temporary Humanitarian Protection – New statuses to failed asylum seekers.

His decision to resign as Whip comes a day after the Partit Demokratiku, spearheaded by his partner Marlene Farrugia, formally announced a pre-electoral coalition with the Nationalist Party.