Jason Azzopard should have been given opportunity to explain his PAC statement, Speaker rules

A ruling was requested after Labour MPs on the Public Accounts Committee opposed the PN MP reading a prepared statement before his testimony • Both Azzopardi and Julia Farrugia Portelli say ruling confirms their position

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi should have been given the opportunity to, at the minimum, explain the salient points of a written statement he had prepared and intended to present to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week.

A ruling was requested by both PAC chairman Beppe Fenech Adami, as well as Labour MPs on the committee, after they were unable to find an agreement on whether Azzopardi could read a sworn declaration before his testimony about the Fekruna Bay land transfer saga.

“Mr Speaker’s Ruling just now confirmed what I stated last week in PAC, i.e. it’s my right to read out a written statement before answering any questions, exactly in line with years long practice,” tweeted Azzopardi of the ruling. “Exactly contrary to what Labour MPs said.”

Meanwhile, Labour MP and PAC committee member Julia Farrugia Portelli said the speaker’s ruling confirmed that Labour MPs were right to ask Azzopardi to “spare [the committee] from a read with me session”.

“Ruling states that when there is no agreement between members, the witness can be granted a max of 10 min to summarize his written statement.”

The Nationalist Party MP, who was the parliamentary secretary responsible for the Lands Department when in 2013 two properties worth €4.3 million were transferred to a company in exchange for the expropriation of land it had owned in the tal-Fekruna area in Xemxija, was called as a witness today by the government's side of the PAC.

Azzopardi had planned to read a statement which he also submitted in writing to the PAC, but its members from the government - Robert Abela, Julia Farrugia Portelli, Alex Muscat and Clayton Bartolo - insisted that, according to the relevant guidelines, while a witness could make a written submission, it was up to the Committee whether he should be allowed to read this out before questions are posed to him from the members.

“We know how to read, he can submit the written statement and we will ask questions based on that document,” Abela said.

However, Opposition members on the committee insisted that witnesses had always been allowed to read a statement, both during the last legislature and legislatures before that.

Delivering his ruling on Monday afternoon, Speaker Anglu Farrugia said that the Guide for witnesses appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, which had been approved by parliament in 2011, stated that the committee could decide that a written brief prepared by a witness be read out.

He referred to a number of occasions, including when Azzopardi himself was chairing the committee., when permission had been given for witnesses to read out a statement.

Moreover, Farrugia said he had also considered the spirit in which the guidelines were prepared, and referred to the system employed in the Canadian House of Commons, which he said allowed witnesses appearing as an individual a limited amount of time in which they can elaborate on their written brief.

Farrugia said the intention was for the committee to decide whether to give between five and ten minutes for a written statement to be explained.

He therefore said that the House was deciding that, in the absence of the committee agreeing that a statement can be read out in its entirety, the witness must be allowed enough time, up to ten minutes, to explain the salient points of their statement.

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