Panamagate won’t go away, MEP warns while minister takes comfort in polls

Owen Bonnici says Joseph Muscat acted ‘humbly’ in reshuffle, Therese Comodini Cachia accuses PM of taking people for fools

Nationalist MEP Therese Comodini Cachia
Nationalist MEP Therese Comodini Cachia
Justice minister Owen Bonnici and PN MEP Therese Comodini Cachia wth Saviour Balzan on Reporter
Justice minister Owen Bonnici and PN MEP Therese Comodini Cachia wth Saviour Balzan on Reporter

Justice minister Owen Bonnici allayed concerns that Labour has lost 25,000 votes since 2013 and hailed the Prime Minister’s decision to maintain Konrad Mizzi as minister as a “proportionate and fair decision”.

Speaking on Monday night’s edition of Reporter, Bonnici dismissed a recent Malta Independent survey that suggests that Labour’s lead over the PN has been slashed to 10,000 votes.

“Those aren’t the numbers we have,” Bonnici said, while pointing at MaltaToday surveys that show Muscat enjoying a healthy trust lead over PN leader Simon Busuttil.

His fellow panelist Therese Comodini Cachia said that Muscat’s recent reshuffle doesn’t reflect public anger against Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri over their offshore Panama accounts, and warned that the scandal isn’t going away anytime soon.

“I don’t want to venture into the tactical reasons why Muscat left them in their positions, and indeed pulled Mizzi closer towards him – giving him a ministerial role at Castille in charge of energy and health privatization projects.

“It is clear that he is not ready to act in the national interest. His speech was a sign that he is playing the public for fools.”

She questioned why Mizzi resigned as PL deputy leader but stayed on as minister.

“So he’s not good enough for Labour, but is good enough for Malta?”

However, Bonnici said that Muscat’s controversial decision was a “humble” one.

“One has to take everything into consideration. Nobody is alleging that Mizzi broke the law, although he admittedly could have behaved better. He paid for it by resigning as PL deputy leader and losing his health and energy portfolios. If I were to lose my portfolio, I wouldn’t see it as a promotion but as a sign that I am being made to shoulder responsibility. What is certain is that Maltese politics has changed; ministers can no longer do as they please and Muscat doesn’t shy away from taking decisions against them.

‘Busuttil has given in to PN’s extreme wing’

Owen Bonnici tore into Simon Busuttil, mocking him as “the PN’s weakest leader in history”.

“He is so weak that he has had to give in to the party’s extreme wing, such as [PN deputy leader] Beppe Fenech Adami and [Malta Independent columnist] Daphne Caruana Galizia. Instead of discussing policies, all he does is sling mug.”

He urged Busuttil to stop painting a negative picture of Malta to the foreign press and to “act in the national interest”.

“After the reshuffle, Busuttil’s first comments weren’t to Maltese journalists, but to an Italian TV station – where he falsely claimed that Malta is in a difficult situation. How are we in a difficult situation when the economy is booming so much?”

He expressed confidence that the people will re-elect Labour, because they “naturally follow the party that creates jobs and wealth”.

“At the end of the day, people just want their lives to progress…”

‘Freethinking Bonnici now repeating Labour’s mantra’

During the debate, Bonnici questioned whether Busuttil will take any action against PN deputy leader Mario de Marco over allegations that he had benefitted from free construction works at his private house.

“Busuttil lied when he said that de Marco has published the invoices,” he added.

He also hit out at PN executive Ann Fenech, arguing that her legal firm Fenlex offers services for clients wishing to open offshore companies in Panama.

“The PN are now saying that only people who intend to do wrong open up companies in Panama; if that was the case, then aren’t the firms who help them open them also in the wrong? If Mizzi had gone to Ann Fenech, she’d have opened the company up for him.”

However, Comodini Cachia accused Bonnici of simply “repeating Labour’s mantra”.

“I know Owen as a person capable of using his own brain, but he is now repeating Labour’s mantra about Ann Fenech and Mario de Marco. As soon as the Panama Papers story broke, the government reacted by hitting out at the Opposition.”

She also challenged Bonnici’s insistence that there was nothing illegal in Mizzi’s set-up by noting that the minister had told a bank that he had set up the company for “brokerage purposes”.

“Ministers simply don’t receive brokerage fees,” she said.