Parliament rose for the Christmas recess on Wednesday after unanimously approving the Budget estimates.
In a rare occurrence, the estimates were unanimously approved in a marathon vote session with all Opposition MPs being absent. Both Nationalist and independent MPs are boycotting events which include Joseph Muscat as Prime Minister.
Parliament is now adjourned to January 20, by when Dr Muscat is expected to have resigned.
At the start of Wednesday’s sitting, Speaker Anġlu Farrugia pointed out that access to the Strangers’ Gallery was still closed, except for the media.
He justified the decision on grounds of Standing Order 165, citing security reasons and to prevent possible disruptions from the public. This stated that Strangers may be present at the sittings of the House but must withdraw when called upon to do so by the Speaker, and that “no strangers are admissible as of right”.
The Stranger’s Gallery has been out of bounds to the public for the last week, when the sitting was suspended amid chaotic scenes when MPs nearly came to blows.
The Speaker’s decision has come under fire from PN deputy leader David Agius when members of NGO Occupy Justice were denied entry on Monday, while protests were raging outside the building.
Meanwhile, the Speaker also referred to the increased security in Freedom Square, saying this was in line with the law which stated that MPs could not be obstructed in any manner on their way to the House.
The sitting continued at committee stage, presided by Labour MP Glen Bedingfield, when a long list of votes on were taken on the estimates for all ministries.
Following their approval, the House moved to approve the Appropriation Bills moved by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna. These authorise government expenditure for the 2020 Budget from the Consolidated Fund.
Apart from this year, the only other times when the Budget was approved unanimously was in 2013 when it was twice put to the vote after the Nationalist government had been defeated and Labour was elected to government, and after the 1981 general election when the Opposition boycotted parliament.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s sitting, the Prime Minister drew the Speaker’s attention to the fact that the sitting was being held concurrently with the funeral of the father of PN MP Edwin Vassallo.
Dr Muscat said that even though the Opposition had decided not to attend Parliament, the timing of the sitting was not meant to be disrespectful towards Mr Vassallo. He added that the House would pay tribute to the Opposition MP’s late father in a future sitting.
At the end of the sitting which finished after 50 minutes, the government MPs bid farewell to the Prime Minister, taking a selfie in the Chamber.