Konrad Mizzi failed to appear before a parliamentary committee for a second time on Wednesday, citing parliamentary rules and practice to justify his absence.
Mizzi was summoned to testify before the Public Accounts Committee about the Electrogas deal he piloted as Energy Minister, having refused to appear before the committee after being summoned for a first time earlier this month.
But when PAC members gathered in parliament on Wednesday afternoon to hear Mizzi’s testimony, the independent MP and former Labour minister was nowhere to be seen.
How did Mizzi justify his absence?
PAC chairman Beppe Fenech Adami said Mizzi had sent a letter earlier on Wednesday, informing them that he would not be appearing before the committee because that was “standard practice” when MPs were summoned before the committee.
Fenech Adami said that was not correct and cited examples of politicians, including himself, who had testified in parliamentary committees before.
The independent MP also cited clauses from the UK parliament’s rulebook, Erskine May, regarding witnesses in parliament, as justification for his absence.
Opposition MPs sitting on the PAC argued that these rules are not absolute and that Erskine May rules provide examples of cases where MPs were required to testify before their peers in plenary, following a vote to that effect.
“Konrad Mizzi is doing a disservice to parliament and his peers,” Fenech Adami said.
Issue referred to Speaker for ruling
Mizzi's interpretation of parliamentary rules will now be presented to parliamentary Speaker Anġlu Farrugia for interpretation, following a motion to that effect presented by Labour MP and whip Glenn Bedingfield.
Opposition MPs, led by PAC member Karol Aquilina, argued that members should censure Mizzi and report his absence to the House, recommending that it order him to appear before the committee.
But government members of the PAC, led by Bedingfield, insisted on asking the Speaker to rule on the matter and shot down Aquilina's resolution.
Fenech Adami accused the government side of ducking responsibility and tossing the issue to the Speaker instead.
"This committee has a duty to decide, we should not abdicate from the powers that we have,” Fenech Adami said.
“Your proposal would weaken the position of this committee.”
Bedingfield rebutted that going to the speaker would “strengthen” the regulation of procedure. The government side simply wanted clarity on how parliamentary rules should be interpreted, he said.
Ray Fenech appears on behalf of GEM
GEM Holdings director Raymond Fenech also appeared in front of the committee, in response to a request made for the company to provide all minutes of meetings relating to the Electrogas project.
Fenech said that the company wanted to cooperate fully with the committee but had some legal reservations about handing over the documents, as some contained sensitive information and trade secrets.
Following a suggestion by Opposition MP Aquilina, Fenech agreed that the company would send documents to the committee ahead of its next meeting next Wednesday, and provide specific reasons for each of the documents it omitted.
GEM is a consortium of three local companies - Gasan Group, Tumas Group and CP Holdings - that owns 33 per cent of the Electrogas power station. The rest of the power station is owned by German giant Siemens and Azeri energy company Socar.
Mizzi and the Electrogas deal
The Electrogas power station project, which Mizzi helped negotiate during his tenure as energy minister, has been subject to claims of corruption. It was identified as a possible motive for the 2017 murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
A Times of Malta investigation last week also revealed that Mizzi had passed on confidential documents related to major projects to former Electrogas director Yorgen Fenech.
Last year, Mizzi was hauled in for police questioning for 24 hours as part of a trading-in-influence investigation linked to Fenech, although no prosecutions have since been forthcoming.
Later that month, Mizzi refused to answer questions put to him by the public inquiry board looking into Caruana Galizia’s death, insisting only that he never took kickbacks from government projects.
Mizzi should appear at PAC - Clyde Caruana
Replying to a parliamentary question by Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina during plenary later, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said good sense dictates that an individual should answer any queries parliament may have.
"He should respect any invitation from Parliament," Caruana said.
Aquilina asked the minister whether he believed Mizzi should appear in front of the PAC and if his refusal to do so sends a negative signal for Malta's Financial Action Task Force greylisting.
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