Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo should resign from parliament's Public Accounts Committee after he was caught sending questions to a witness ahead of his testimony, Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech said on Wednesday.  

Bartolo was found by the Speaker of the House to have failed to act in line with procedure when he provided a draft of his questions to economist and Bank of Valletta chairman Gordon Cordina before the latter testified.

Cordina, whose company E-Cubed was commissioned by Enemalta to run an energy-related study in 2011, testified during a PAC hearing on Tuesday. 

At the end of that session, PAC chairman and PN MP Darren Carabott asked Cordina if he had received any questions in advance.

Cordina replied in the affirmative and said he was sent a rough draft of questions by Bartolo, adding that he assumed that was in line with committee guidelines.

The minister, who asked more questions of the witness than any other committee member during Tuesday's hearing, confirmed that he had sent Cordina questions beforehand. 

The admission prompted Carabott to request that a copy of the email and text message sent Cordina be submitted to the PAC as exhibits. He also requested a ruling on the matter.

PAC witness Gordon Cordina confirms he was sent questions by Clayton Bartolo.

Speaker: Indication should come from committee, not its members

That ruling came on Wednesday afternoon, when Speaker An─ílu Farrugia concluded that the minister was in the wrong. 

While the committee can give a witness an informal indication of the line of questioning beforehand, an individual member of the committee should not do so, he ruled. 

The Speaker said he listened to the PAC meeting and noted that Cordina did not seem in threatened or to be providing any false evidence during the sitting. 

Farrugia also said that government ministers should not be made permanent members of the committee, and only be substituted in when an MP on the committee is absent.

Clayton Bartolo (inset) admitted to providing the witness with questions ahead of a PAC hearing.Clayton Bartolo (inset) admitted to providing the witness with questions ahead of a PAC hearing.

Bartolo is the only minister to sit on the PAC, one of parliament's most important committees. 

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech said Bartolo should resign from the committee over the matter. 

“Where is the respect? Clayton Bartolo should resign immediately from the PAC,” Grech said as he gave his reaction speech to the Prime Minister’s Budget 2024 estimates.

“And if he remains, then Prime Minister, you should have him removed immediately.”

A government with no plan

During his speech, Grech accused the Labour Party government of having no plan apart from growing Malta's economy through rapid population growth.

"We see that the government had no clear economic plan for our country, the only plan was to bring more foreign workers in," he said.

Education, health and other infrastructure is struggling to cope with the increasing numbers, the PN leader said. 

He mentioned how one elderly woman had her operation cancelled at the last minute, and how one LSE complained that the majority of her students are foreign. 

Grech also told parliament that he had spoken to a woman who said she was "too afraid" to get on a bus because of the large number of foreigners. 

"So many people ask me why there are certain sectors which instead of moving forward, are moving backwards," he said.

There are workers who cannot progress their careers or improve their salaries because there are "two, three or hundreds" of other people who are ready to do the same work, for less pay, Grech said. 

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