Justice Minister and Jason Azzopardi at loggerheads over Speaker’s ruling
● Azzopardi claims Justice Minister lied to PAC in the past
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Shadow Minister Jason Azzopardi are at loggerheads over a ruling delivered by Speaker Anglu Farrugia, where Dr Azzopardi has been ordered to retract a statement in which he alleged that Dr Bonnici had lied to the Public Accounts Committee.
In comments to The Malta Independent, Dr Azzopardi said that it is not the first time the Justice Minister lied to PAC, but he refused to divulge details on this alleged previous lie for the time-being.
This newsroom contacted Dr Bonnici on this new allegation, and he said that he has “never lied” to Parliament, and questioned why Dr Azzopardi didn’t ask for a ruling on this alleged
“I am not going to engage in these sorts of games. He should simply say ‘I am sorry’ for attacking me personally but he is seemingly not man enough to do this,” said Justice Minister Bonnici.
Dr Azzopardi’s statement was never made in Parliament, the shadow justice minister said, however his claim was repeatedly made on a PBS current affairs programme, on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and lastly on the Nationalist Party radio station.
It therefore remains unclear why the Justice Minister chose to have the Speaker investigate and decide rather than seek legal remedy through initiating libel or defamation proceedings in the courts. When asked about this, Minister Bonnici said that rather than going through court proceedings he chose to have the Speaker investigate because ultimately Dr Azzopardi’s statement was based on what Dr Bonnici said in PAC, a parliamentary committee.
Asked whether Dr Azzopardi is planning to retract his statement, Dr Azzopardi said “the truth is the truth”, adding that he will certainly not retract the statement.
On a PBS current affairs programme, Dr Azzopardi had said that the Justice Minister told PAC that Henley and Partners, the company contracted to oversee the controversial cash-for-citizenship scheme, was only receiving a four per cent commission from the initial €650,000 required to buy Maltese citizenship.
Dr Azzopardi then said that Henley and Partners were being granted an additional 4% commission on government stocks they sold to applicants, as revealed by the recently published Individual Investment Programme Regulator’s report.
Having repeatedly said that Dr Bonnici lied to parliament, the Justice Minister asked the Speaker to investigate what he claims to be a breach of parliamentary privilege by Dr Azzopardi.
The Speaker eventually ruled that Dr Azzopardi must retract his statements, and quoted from the PAC Committee meetings that took place, as well as the Annual IIP report and other documents. The Speaker said that the Justice Minister had made clear that there were certain clauses in the contract that could not be published due to commercial sensitivity and competitivity.
He also said that PAC Chairman Tonio Fenech had realised, through the minister’s answers during the committee meeting, that Henley and Partners receive funds from more than just the €650,000. This was also evident in the regulator’s annual report, the Speaker said.
Asked on what Dr Azzopardi plans to do next, he said that he will certainly not retract the statements he has made, because “the truth is the truth”. He said that he would appeal by using the parliamentary procedure available to fight the ruling.
As to whether an argument could be made that at best it was a lie of omission, due to the “commercially sensitive” clauses that could not be shared, Dr Azzopardi said that Dr Bonnici’s statement was made “with the specific intent to mislead the PAC”.
This newsroom asked Dr Bonnici for his reaction to the assertion that he tried to specifically mislead parliament, and he said: “I am flabbergasted that after having a ruling by the Speaker, which is a very well-researched ruling, to have Dr Azzopardi still persisting in the lie which he is attributing to me, speaks volumes about the level of arrogance. It points towards the fact that the Nationalist Party, and Dr Azzopardi in particular, are champions of negativity. They are so negative, even on the face of this ruling they still persist on being negative and throwing mud, trying something unbelievable
“I think first of all Dr Azzopardi is not correct when saying he is going to appeal. There is no procedure of appealing, what you can do is you can file a motion in Parliament against the ruling and in doing so you are filing a motion against the Speaker himself. What he is saying is he will put forward a motion of censure against the Speaker.”
Dr Azzopardi has written on Facebook that “the decision (the Speaker’s ruling) will be appealed.”
“Even the choice of words shows that he is trying to mislead people in thinking there is an appeal when there is not. What you can do is file a motion of censure so you would be putting a motion of no confidence in the Speaker. The least he would have done is to say ‘I’m sorry, I was mistaken, I was trigger happy’, and I would have accepted. It seems that he is so stubborn in his negativity that he will not accept this ruling.”
While speaking with this newsroom Dr Azzopardi said “I will appeal in that I will use the parliamentary procedure available to me.”