Nationalist MP Franco Debono was going to abstain in Wednesday’s vote against Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici until negotiations with the Prime Minister on a “whole package” of changes fell through, The Times has learnt.

One of the proposals discussed was the inclusion of Dr Debono in Lawrence Gonzi’s meetings with civil society organised for the PN by Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil.

Another proposal was for Dr Debono to be made deputy chairman of the PN’s think-tank AŻAD, which is chaired by Dr Busuttil, according to sources.

“The situation was fluid,” Dr Debono told The Times, admitting that he was “close” to reaching an agreement with Dr Gonzi on a “whole package” of changes. However, at one point, Dr Debono said, he lost access to the Prime Minister.

Dr Debono on Wednesday night voted with the Opposition on a motion of no confidence against Dr Mifsud Bonnici for his handling of the home affairs and justice portfolios, forcing him to resign and prompting the Prime Minister to call a vote of confidence for Monday.

Negotiations in the past weeks had not been successful but when on Wednesday morning Dr Mifsud Bonnici said he was prepared to resign from his post of Leader of the House, PN negotiators saw hope.

At this point, Dr Debono indicated that he was willing to abstain, although he claims that he made no demands and says he has witnesses to confirm this. “I did not make any demands but I was offered many things.”

However, problems arose when Dr Debono was informed that the Prime Minister planned to reappoint Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg instead of Dr Mifsud Bonnici.

“When [Dr Mifsud Bonnici] said he would resign from Leader of the House I asked who was going to replace him and they told me Tonio Borg. And I made two points: Dr Borg has been Leader of the House for eight years and did not make any parliamentary reforms. And secondly it does not make sense to remove him from the position only to give it back to him five months down the line.”

Dr Debono said he would have been pleased had he been asked to be Leader of the House, particularly because he was so vocal about parliamentary reform, but he claimed he would not have accepted the post.

“I made it clear I would not accept.”

Interestingly, shortly before the vote, Dr Gonzi on Wednesday told Parliament that he “appreciated” Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s offer to resign from Leader of the House but did not say he was accepting it.

Dr Debono admitted that he made another demand before yesterday’s vote, which would have led him to abstain on a motion which he has long been saying he would support.

“There was something I demanded... To condemn an attack by a blogger on my mother. When The Times attacked an MP, the Prime Minister attacked The Times,” he said.

Asked if he was referring to columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who has regularly mentioned Dr Debono’s mother in her blog posts, Dr Debono refrained from mentioning her by name.

“A blogger,” he repeated.

Dr Debono said he had made the request to the Prime Minister several times before but Dr Gonzi was “too scared” to mention Ms Caruana Galizia by name. Similarly, during his speech on Wednesday, Dr Gonzi appealed for “bloggers” to stop personal attacks but did not mention anyone by name.

According to MPs who spoke to The Times, Dr Debono made a telling outburst after he voted with the Opposition. “This is what you get for badmouthing me with the Chief Justice,” Dr Debono said, according to Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami.

“I can confirm first hand that the impression I got was that his motivation yesterday was to get back at Dr Mifsud Bonnici because he badmouthed him with the Chief Justice,” Dr Fenech Adami said.

Another PN MP, who preferred to remain unnamed, confirmed the information.

Asked about this, Dr Debono said: “I honestly don’t remember.

“I was so excited during the vote that I don’t even remember saying anything.”

Later, Dr Debono called again to deny having at any point claimed he was the victim of badmouthing.

Meanwhile, Dr Gonzi yesterday confirmed that negotiations had taken place with Dr Debono before the vote.

“My door was always open,” he said, admitting that he was not sure about Dr Debono’s voting intentions despite having said on Wednesday that he was not surprised by the outcome.

A solution “could not be found”, Dr Gonzi said, when asked to confirm whether there had been discussions on the appointment of Dr Debono as Leader of the House instead of Dr Mifsud Bonnici.

The Prime Minister said it was his duty to govern the country for the term of this legislature according to the rules of demo­cracy, “not for the fun of it”, indicating that he would not call an early election unless the government lost Monday’s vote of confidence.

Dr Debono has already said that he would not vote against the government on Monday.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Joseph Muscat said last night that although Monday’s confidence vote was expected to pass one way or another, Dr Gonzi knew the political problems would not go away.

Referring to the PN’s campaign called Be Prime Minister for a day, he told a Labour activity in Gudja that Dr Gonzi needed to be an ordinary worker for a day, to know what workers were going through.

It was not a prime minister for a day that the country needed but a prime minister who could focus on his job for the term of the legislature.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us