Said: Refalo should come clean on his knowledge of Gozo works-for-votes

Gozo works-for-votes never off election radar

File photo: PN secretary-general Chris Said (Photo: Ray Attard)
File photo: PN secretary-general Chris Said (Photo: Ray Attard)

Nationalist Party secretary-general Chris Said has said he has no qualms about resigning should he be implicated in any wrongdoing over the works-for-votes in Gozo that has implicated him as having been aware of the allegations by a Gozitan whistleblower.

With five days to go before the electorate head to the polls in local council elections, Reporter scrutinised the issues surrounding local councils with parliamentary secretary for EU funds Ian Borg, Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola and Said locking horns on PBS’s Reporter.

Said said that Gozitan contractor Joe Cauchi, from Gharb, had spoken to him about outstanding dues from the Gozo ministry for works he carried out for private constituents at the behest of Anthony Debono, the head of the ministry’s projects division and husband of former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono.

Emails published by MaltaToday show Said having known of the works as early as Marh 2014, in which it was also claimed that PN leader Simon Busuttil was aware of what had been going on. Cauchi further claimed that he had also met Said in his office.

Said has claimed that the works carried out by Cauchi “did not imply abuse” and that he advised Cauchi to seek a legal remedy. “The contractor asked me to intercede with the mayor of Gharb, so I called him. The mayor denied owed him anything and I passed that message on. I then advised him [Cauchi] to seek legal advice on the matter.”

But Said also said that Cauchi had also approached Labour Gozo minister Anton Refalo back in November 2014. “Refalo had not told anyone anything about this before the police started investigating six months later, after MaltaToday broke the story. What happened in those six months?”

Ian Borg on his part laid the blame at the feet of PN leader Simon Busuttil. “I understand that the contractor wrote to Said five days before the European Parliament elections, and it is hard to come out with a story like that so late…. It’s Busuttil’s fault. Today, PN executive committed president Anne Fenech said she had been informed during an internal briefing about the issue some days ago. Busuttil is not credible when he says that he was not informed.”

Although conceding that the use of public funds for private works was clearly wrong, Said however said that this paled in comparison to Labour’s record. “If you use those [public] funds to employ persons in positions of trust, paying €1.25 million over five years, or employ a person who has a two-year suspended sentence in an €85,000 post” – referring to EU Sherpa Cyrus Engerer – “do you know how many projects could have been carried out [with that money]?”

Cassola on his part blamed the political culture of the past fifty years. “This scandal is about a husband of a minister who has been working in the private sector. Another one is that the wife of a serving minister was transferred to work in his ministry. Is this not a scandal too?”

Local councils

Ian Borg was non-committal on whether a low turnout would affect the result of the local council elections, before turning his guns on the PN once more. “We all know Chris Said has absolute control of the PN, so he limits the occasions where his leader can be seen in public. The other part of the strategy is that the PN is always negative.”

While Said the PN intends improving on its previous result in this round of elections, Green Party leader Arnold Cassola said AD hopes to have a new councillor elected. “Part of the blame for the lack of our electoral success in previous years may well lie with our arguments. The lack of representation by AD candidates in local councils over the past decades could have been because of the two-party mentality, but it could also be our fault for not being sufficiently convincing.”

Reporter, hosted by Saviour Balzan, airs every Monday at 20:40 on TVM2, with a repeat at 21:55 on TVM.

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