“Fat cats” are reaching everywhere, having infiltrated political parties, commercial entities and the media, newly elected Nationalist MP Albert Buttigieg has warned.

In a Times of Malta interview, Buttigieg says he has a duty as a politician to speak about this problem and push back against big business interests that derail the democratic process in the country by hijacking politics.

Buttigieg turned his guns on his own party earlier this year by claiming that one of these unnamed fat cats conspired with a former party official to prevent him from making it to parliament during the March general election.

The MP, who occupies the parliament seat previously held by Robert Arrigo, says that particular saga is now behind him.

Buttigieg on infiltration by 'fat cats'. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

“I will keep on speaking out against the irregular relationship between certain politicians and developers. However, that specific ‘fat cat’ case has now been closed,” he said.

“The PN’s ethics commission supported my recommendations to adopt an internal whistleblower system as well as a revolving door policy for its top officials,” Buttigieg added.

He says it would be wrong to assume big business wields influence over just one side and not the other.

“Unfortunately, the octopus has tentacles everywhere, to the detriment of the common good,” he noted.

“Politicians are not just there to represent their party. They are there to represent the common good”.

Buttigieg says the only way to cut the umbilical cord from these business people is to introduce clear lobbying and party financing rules.

He says certain decisions which should be taken in parliament are instead being made by ministers over a casual lunch or during a meeting over a coffee with those who wield influence.

Buttigieg describes party financing as one of the biggest problems being faced by the main political parties.

“If the political parties care about the common good, they need to solve the issue of party financing,” he said.

“Certain donors are not giving money out of kindness, they are doing so because they expect something in return.”

Albert Buttigieg on the parliamentary group.

The new MP says that, although donations can be above board, it turns problematic if these lead to certain policies being changed or laws bent to accommodate the donor.

He says that both the PN and Labour need to carry out a soul-searching exercise because if politicians do not uphold the necessary ethical standards, it is the country – and the common good – that suffers.

Buttigieg assures that such a soul-searching exercise is taking place within the Nationalist Party and the goodwill to do better exists.

Government job offer

Buttigieg, who spent years as St Julian’s mayor calling out overdevelopment, says attempts to silence him have come from every angle.

“I have had many offers for me to step away from the PN. I have also had offers from people who try to entice me away and shut me up,” Buttigieg said.

Questioned further, he says such offers have come from both people in business and in government, including the prospect of a government job.

Asked to be more specific, he refused to mention names.

Buttigieg says that during his time as mayor, he consistently spoke out against overdevelopment, regardless of who was behind the development application.

“When something was wrong, I said it was wrong, regardless of who was involved in the development,” he adds.

‘Healthy’ discussion on Arrigo seat

Buttigieg admits the PN held a “healthy discussion” with him over whether he should contest the by-election to fill Arrigo’s seat.

Soon after Arrigo’s death last month, speculation started to mount about whether PN leader Bernard Grech could try to co-opt a person of his choosing to parliament.

To do this, unsuccessful candidates like Buttigieg and Emma Portelli Bonnici would first have had to refrain from contesting the by-election.

Buttigieg says such a discussion did take place.

“There was no resistance to me contesting. All options were on the table,” he said.

“It was a healthy discussion with the PN. At no point did they put a gun to my head. We discussed the options, one of which was me not contesting”.

He insists he has no problem with the party holding such discussions, as it was looking at the “bigger picture” by evaluating all options.

Asked if he has faith in Grech’s leadership, Buttigieg replied: “He is the present leader and he has passed a confidence vote within the party structure.”

Buttigieg says the party is not just about its leader because everyone must work towards advancing the cause.

“We all have a role to play. Every MP and every party member has a duty to help the party,” he contended.

He says the biggest challenge faced by all politicians is remaining in touch with people.

“I am sitting in the seat of someone who did not make this mistake,” he said.

“Everyone knows Robert Arrigo always kept in close contact with people. This is the biggest secret.”

Spring hunting debate

Buttigieg, making it clear he is speaking on a personal level, says the debate on whether spring hunting is allowed should be restarted.

A bid to ban spring hunting via a referendum in 2015 saw the hunting lobby narrowly triumph over those who wanted to put a stop to the practice. He says both parties are still being “blackmailed” by the votes wielded by the hunting lobby.

“Politicians need to be free to carry out what is in the interest of the common good,” he told Times of Malta.

“I have nothing against hunters but cannot understand hunting. Cavemen hunted [for survival]. We need to be bold when it comes to these things”.

Albert Buttigieg on spring hunting. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Buttigieg says that even speaking out in favour of migrant rights can result in a politician losing votes.

He stresses that he dissociates himself from any populist statements made by his party colleagues regarding migration and migrant rights.

He also questions why the government has made a show of arresting African migrants, yet the Maltese landlords who rent property to them appear to remain untouched.

Limiting cars per household

Buttigieg, a keen environmentalist, recently suggested that one way to cut down on traffic and pollution could be limiting the number of cars per household.

Again, he makes it clear that this is his own idea and not PN policy, adding his job is now to discuss proposals like these within the party.

“However, just because it is my personal idea, it does not mean that I should not speak about it,” he said.

Buttigieg again hammers home the need for politicians to be more courageous.

“Are we in politics to curry favour or are we in politics for the common good? It is clear the environment is in crisis.

Traffic management is in crisis. The government has decided to widen roads and build flyovers,” he said.

“We need to grab the bull by its horns. Does this dependence on cars make sense? Does it make sense for a household of four people to have four cars?” he questions.

He says politicians need to move away from the tribal way of doing politics and called for bolder discussions on other ideas like collecting waste at night to cut down on traffic congestion and pedestrianising town centres.

“We should be capable of mature discussions,” he said.

“Ideas should not be dismissed purely on the basis that they come from one party or the other.”

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