Ministerial intervention resolves St. Paul's Bay council spat

Minister Owen Bonnici used his powers under the Local Councils Act to give instructions to fill the vacant post with the person who earned the second-largest number of votes.

St Paul's Bay local council's former PN mayor Graziella Galea
St Paul's Bay local council's former PN mayor Graziella Galea

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has used dedicated legal powers to step in and resolve the ongoing spat over the leadership of the St. Paul’s Bay local council.

St. Paul’s Bay’s local council has been in a quandary ever since PN mayor Graziella Galea resigned her post in January in a bid to avoid a vote of no confidence from Labour councillors and two PN councillors who fell out with the mayor's direction.

Galea, the daughter of former PN minister Censu Galea, became mayor in 2015 after the PN won back a majority from the Labour Party.

However, disaffection with her running of the council has led to the resignation of two PN councillors – Robert Piscopo and Joseph Vella – who now sit as independent councillors.

This left the council with a PL majority, prompting the PN to file a court case to stop Labour from seizing control of the council.

PN secretary general Clyde Puli, after filing the case together with PN MP Robert Cutajar and lawyer Errol Cutajar on behalf of the PN said it had done so “to defend the interests of residents of St. Paul’s Bay, because the PL was trying to usurp control of this local council without an electoral mandate, not having obtained the majority of the votes.”

An injunction to this effect, stopping PL-proposed elections for a new mayor, had already been filed earlier this month and had been provisionally upheld by the courts.

The PN argues that residents had given a clear majority to the PN, blaming elements in the local council of stopping the PN from working in the interests of the community.

Cutajar said that in the case of a resignation of a mayor, the law clearly stipulated that such a vacancy be filled by a person from the same political party, who had garnered the second-largest number of votes.

The PL, however accused the Nationalists of holding them responsible for problems of its own making, pointing the finger of blame at PN leader Adrian Delia, who they said “was unable to hold on to the majority he had in this locality, through no fault of the PL. The fault, however was due to Delia’s lack of leadership.”

The situation was resolved late on Saturday afternoon by the timely intervention of minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici, who used his powers under the Local Councils Act to give instructions to fill the vacant post with the person who earned the second-largest number of votes. The decision was also made in view of the First Hall of the Civil Court’s provisional upholding of the injunction.

Bonnici’s intervention potentially spared the courts from having to deal with another request for a judge's recusal after the case was assigned to former Labour deputy leader, now judge, Toni Abela.

The allocation of the case to judge Abela, a former PL deputy leader and party stalwart, was bound to make many in the PN uncomfortable, sparking fears of another PN request for a judge’s recusal. Late last year, the then PN leader Simon Busuttil had demanded the recusal of judge Antonio Mizzi from an appeal against a decision to launch an money laundering inquiry into OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi – amongst others- on the grounds that Mizzi is married to a PL MEP.

Mizzi had refused to step aside and Busuttil filed a constitutional challenge to the decision. That case is still ongoing.

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