Ja­son Az­zopardi de­fies House rul­ing, re­fuses to re­tract Owen Bon­nici com­ments

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE -

Op­po­si­tion MP Ja­son Az­zopardi yes­ter­day evening chose to defy a rul­ing by Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Anglu Far­ru­gia over com­ments he made to the ef­fect that Jus­tice Min­is­ter Owen Bon­nici lied to Par­lia­ment’s Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

Dr Az­zopardi said he would not re­tract his state­ment not be­cause he did not re­spect the House but, rather, be­cause he re­spected the truth even more.

Speaker Anglu Far­ru­gia found Dr Az­zopardi to be prima fa­cie in breach of par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege over com­ments he made on Jus­tice Min­is­ter Owen Bon­nici, in which he ac­cused him of ly­ing to Par­lia­ment.

Soon af­ter the rul­ing was read out yes­ter­day evening, Op­po­si­tion leader Simon Busut­til said he backed Dr Az­zopardi’s com­ments com­pletely and asked that the same rul­ing be ap­plied to him.

At the start of yes­ter­day evening’s sit­ting, Dr Far­ru­gia asked Dr Az­zopardi whether he would be tak­ing back the com­ment, or whether he would at least change it.

Dr Az­zopardi said he wished he was in a po­si­tion to do so, but that he could not.

The Speaker said that in light of Dr Az­zopardi’s re­fusal to re­tract his com­ments, he was find­ing the PN MP in breach of priv­i­lege. The case will now be re­ferred to the Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee.

At that point the Op­po­si­tion Leader stood up and leapt to Dr Az­zopardi’s defence.

The ma­noeu­vre clearly irked Jus­tice Min­is­ter Owen Bon­nici, who said that if the PN Leader was echo­ing Dr Az­zopardi’s com­ments that he would file a breach of priv­i­lege com­plaint against the Op­po­si­tion Leader as well.

Dr Far­ru­gia cau­tioned all par­ties, telling them that while they had a right to crit­i­cise they should not re­sort to in­sults.

Dr Busut­til took the floor again, re­it­er­at­ing his full back­ing for Dr Az­zopardi’s com­ments.

I am do­ing this be­cause I be­lieve in free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

“I am do­ing this be­cause I be­lieve in free­dom of ex­pres­sion. To­day, 30 years from the Tal-Bar­rani events, we have the Jus­tice Min­is­ter try­ing to muz­zle us. I want you (the Speaker) to ap­ply the same rul­ing to me as well.”

Dr Bon­nici said he was dis­ap­pointed by the Op­po­si­tion Leader’s at­ti­tude.

“We come here to work, not to be in­sulted. I will heed the Speaker’s ad­vice be­cause I be­lieve that we should rise above petty in­sults.”

Dr Bon­nici said he was not try­ing to muz­zle any­one and in­sisted he was only us­ing a pro­ce­dure Dr Az­zopardi him­self had used against jour­nal­ists back in 2010.

Com­ment­ing af­ter the rul­ing, Dr Az­zopardi said his com­ments had been made in pub­lic, not in Par­lia­ment, where MPs had the pro­tec­tion of priv­i­lege.

He said it was ironic how, 30 years af­ter the Tal-Bar­rani events, the Speaker had re­sorted to cen­sur­ing MPs’ tweets.

This has set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent, he said, also ac­cus­ing the Speaker of try­ing to put a gag on free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

He also ques­tioned the im­par­tial­ity of the rul­ing, point­ing out that Dr Bon­nici had ap­pointed the Speaker’s daugh­ter as a mag­is­trate.

Ac­cus­ing the Speaker of us­ing “in­quisi­to­rial rea­son­ing,” Dr Az­zopardi said the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee had been told that Hen­ley and Part­ners – the con­ces­sion­aires of the IIP pro­gramme – were only re­ceiv­ing com­mis­sions on the €650,000 con­tri­bu­tion.

“But,” Dr Az­zopardi said, “we have now learnt that this was a lie. We were also told that the govern­ment was not in­cur­ring any di­rect costs when we know that the pay­ment of com­mis­sions on bonds is a di­rect cost. No one knew about this be­fore the pub­li­ca­tion of the IIP Reg­u­la­tor’s re­port last month.”

The is­sue cropped up on a re­cent PBS cur­rent af­fairs pro­gramme, when Dr Az­zopardi 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.

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