The Opposition said this evening that it was surreal that minister Konrad Mizzi this evening rose in Parliament to speak about an inquiry into the administration of cemeteries when far more serious allegations had been made against him.
Dr Mizzi made his statement after the Speaker earlier ruled in favour of an Opposition demand that a statement which was meant to have been delivered by Parliamentary Secretary Chris Fearne had to be made by the minister himself (See separate story).
Dr Mizzi said in his statement that an inquiry conducted by Judge Alberto Magri found no irregularities in the running of state-owned cemeteries.
The inquiry was called after allegations by Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg about irregular digging and transfer of graves, irregular demands for payments and service which was not given as expected.
Dr Mizzi said the inquiry did not find any graves which had been dug irregularly or without authorisation.
No irregular transfer of graves was made.
Three cases of administrative shortcomings were found. All took place under the PN administration.
Dr Mizzi said there was a practice, which has existed for 10 years, where private contractors were engaged to clean graves, against payment. A similar service was provided by government workers at cheaper rates. There was one case of overpayment demanded by government workers and this has been referred to the police.
Dr Mizzi said the allegations made by the opposition had been taken seriously and officials were suspended pending the outcome, but nothing resulted and the officials, including the director, were being reinstated.
Dr Mizzi said the government understood that work needed to be done to extend and improve the cemeteries. The people would not be deceived. The former government had made promise of sale agreements for the sale of graves in a way that was irregular. They were not made before notaries, they were not registered and no stamp duty was paid.
Nonetheless, they were now being registered and would be honoured once the cemetery extension was completed. A Mepa permit for an extension of the Addolorata cemetery was issued recently. The extension would be in line with the original designs by architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia. It would allow for 2,800 new graves.
The project would be carried out as a public-private partnership.
'A SURREAL SITUATION' - OPPOSITION
Beppe Fenech Adami (PN) said this was a surreal situation. Thousands of people yesterday protested and expressed their anger over the way how the minister was found to have hidden companies in Panama.
Now he had turned up in parliament not to give a statement on his secret company or trust, of those of the chief of staff of the office of the Prime Minister, but to speak about cemeteries.
He (Konrad Mizzi) has spoken about graves, and I am seeing oqbra mbajda- Beppe Fenech Adami
He had not spoken on what he had buried away in Panama. He had spoken about graves, and he was seeing oqbra mbajda, Dr Fenech Adami said.
At this stage the Speaker insisted that Dr Fenech Adami should stick to the subject.
Dr Fenech Adami said the minister had spoken of an inquiry held after a serious allegation.
But what was serious was the serious allegation, made by Daphne Caruana Galizia, about the minister.
Anton Refalo (PL) said this had nothing to do.
The Speaker called for comments on the subject.
Dr Fenech Adami said a more serious allegation was how the chief of staff of the Office of the Prime Minister and the minister set up companies to take bribes, kickbacks and dirty money from dictators....
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici insisted questions had to be related to the subject of the ministerial statement, which was the cemeteries. Rules had to be observed.
The Speaker again insisted that MPs must keep to the subject.
Continuing, Dr Fenech Adami said the minister had said in his statement that the government took the allegations (about the cemeteries) seriously.
If the allegations about the cemeteries were serious, the allegations about Dr Mizzi himself were major, gigantic, Dr Fenech Adami continued.
Minister Carmelo Abela said the opposition was not observing the Speaker's instructions to stick to the subject.
It makes no sense to discuss the cemeteries when the people are discussing Konrad Mizzi's Panama company.- Marlene Farrugia
Marlene Farrugia (Independent) said these were extraordinary times. Valletta's streets yesterday were crowded with people...it made no sense to discuss the cemeteries when the people were discussing Konrad Mizzi's Panama company.
The Speaker said the ministerial statement was about the cemeteries. If Dr Fenech Adami was going to waste time, he would give the floor to somebody else...
Konrad Mizzi said he had no problem in hearing Dr Fenech Adami and replying.
Dr Fenech Adami said he did not need Dr Mizzi's permission.
Marlene Farrugia said Dr Mizzi should therefore have made the statement which the people expected.
Continuing Dr Fenech Adami again repeated Caruana Galizia's allegation.
When he was told across the floor to repeat it outside the House, he retorted that it was already out there.
Replying, Konrad Mizzi said the Leader of the Opposition had still not repeated outside the statements he made in parliament last week. Similarly, he was challenging Dr Fenech Adami to repeat outside the statements he had made today.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said he had repeated his claims outside several times, and no libel action had been taken. Dr Mizzi could also have raised a privilege complaint in the House if House rules were broken.
Dr Mizzi said he was challenging Dr Busuttil and Dr Fenech Adami to accompany him downstairs where they could repeat their statements and he would sue.
Dr Busuttil said Dr Mizzi could make his privilege complaint now.
Dr Mizzi said it was clear that the Opposition was equated to Daphne Caruana Galizia and they were working hand in hand, but the people had rejected them once and would reject them again.
As for Marlene Fasrrugia's comment, he was inviting her to move a no confidence motion and it would be debated on Wednesday.
He had declared his assets in the declaration of assets, he said, and he had invited the Inland Revenue Commissioner to audit him. He had explained that the trust was for his family affairs, but he had heard people's complaints that the choice of Panama could have been better made. Once the audit was over, he would close the Panama company, in which there were no accounts anyway.
He could have exercised better judgement, but his intention was noble and it was in the interests of his family, Dr Mizzi said..
I stand tall, I am prepared to work more for the people of Malta and Gozo and as deputy leader I will work to ensure that the government delivers- Konrad Mizzi
He had worked night and day to save Enemalta, build a new gas power station, close Marsa power station and make a difference of the country including solving the problem of out of stock medicines and hospital overcrowding.
"I stand tall, I am prepared to work more for the people of Malta and Gozo and as deputy leader I will work to ensure that the government delivers," Dr Mizzi said.
"I will learn from my mistakes and will continue to work for the people," he said.
ADMISSION OF BAD JUDGEMENT IS ENOUGH REASON TO GO
Replying later during the adjournment, Dr Fenech Adami said the minister's admission of bad judgement was enough reason for him to resign. That was what ministers did abroad.
In a reaction, the Labour Party again accused Simon Busuttil and Beppe Fenech Adami of hiding behind parliamentary privilege and refusing to take up Dr Mizzi's challenge to repeat their comments outside.
Their references to Daphne Caruana Galizia's blog showed how she had become the official mouthpiece of the Nationalist Party, despite what was said about her in the report about the reasons for the PN's electoral defeat.
But nothing was said about Ann Fenech, director and leading shareholder in a company which had interests in Panama.