The four government MPs on the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday refused to censure former minister Konrad Mizzi for having decided not to appear before the committee to answer questions related to the Electrogas deal.
The MPs refused to vote in favour of an Opposition motion deploring his decision and asking him again to appear before the committee at another sitting. Instead, they moved their own motion, which was limited to a fresh request to appear before the committee.
While Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina, who proposed the first motion insisted on a vote for each motion, Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, who proposed the amendment, said a vote had to be taken on the amended motion.
Muscat said that “ideally”, anyone who was summoned to appear before the PAC should do so.
Both sides spent a substantial amount of time bickering over procedural issues, with committee chairman Beppe Fenech Adami eventually deciding to put both motions to the vote.
Government whip Glenn Beddingfield insisted that the sitting ought to be suspended for a ruling from the Speaker. The request was ignored by the PAC chair.
Beddingfield said the government side, which included tourism minister Clayton Bartolo and MP Jonathan Attard, would therefore vote against the first motion since there was no agreement on procedure.
The Nationalist MPs - Fenech Adami, Aquilina and Ryan Callus - voted in favour of both motions and the committee will therefore re-summon Mizzi.
The former minister had resigned from the Cabinet in late 2019. He was eventually kicked out of the Labour parliamentary group but stayed on as an independent MP.
Writing on Facebook on Wednesday morning, the former minister said his summons to appear before the committee was nothing more than “a partisan attack” on the Electrogas project which, he said, shifted energy generation in Malta from the use of polluting heavy fuel oil to cleaner gas and renewable energy, “a project that has brought so many benefits to the Maltese and Gozitan people, as well as to the economy of our country”.
He wrote to the PAC at 7.16am on Wednesday to say he was invoking his right not to appear before the committee as guaranteed by the committee's rules.
The rules say that: “Members of the House, including ministers, may refuse to appear as witnesses and thus may not be formally summoned to attend as witnesses before the Committee. The House shall be informed of such a refusal.”
Fenech Adami told the committee that while he respected Mizzi's decision emanating from his rights, but MPs also had a duty towards parliament. Ministers and even former prime ministers had appeared before the committee, mentioning former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi and ministers Tonio Fenech, Austin Gatt and Owen Bonnici and MP Claudio Grech and himself as examples.
“While we understand that it’s a right, MPs are duty-bound to appear and answer. Refusing to do so shows a lack of respect toward the country’s highest institution,” he said.
The committee hearing turned into a shouting match at one point when Aquilina heard Muscat mumble something related to the case of which he was recently cleared that he had tried to run over a police officer. Muscat denied saying anything to this effect, with Aquilina calling him a liar. Both sides said they would file breach of privilege complaints over the matter.