The Nationalist Party will honour its commitment to donors who invested in the party’s ċedoli scheme, despite having debts running up to €32 million, party leader Bernard Grech said on Saturday.

He said the scheme will expire in a few years but gave assurance that they will be honoured fully, including the interest payments. He was speaking in an interview on Andrew Azzopardi’s programme on 103 Malta’s Heart.

The party had launched its ċedoli (loans) scheme in 2016, when Simon Busuttil was party leader. Under the scheme, the party entered into a private agreement with individuals who lend it €10,000 for 10 years against an interest payment of four per cent.

Busuttil had said the party had raised almost €3 million through the scheme in just a few months. Since then, the party never said how much money it had raised through the scheme.

The scheme affords anonymity to lenders and has been criticised for going against the spirit of the political party financing law, that makes it incumbent on parties to publish the names of individuals who donate €7,000 or more.

Ray Bezzina's move to db Group

Grech was asked about his former right-hand man Ray Bezzina's decision to move to the db Group.

The PN leader seemed indifferent to the move, saying Bezzina had "made his choice".  

“The party was vociferous about its (db Group) project and will continue. Political consistency will remain my trademark. I will accept donations from anyone, except the corrupt or criminals, but donations will not stop me from taking positions in favour or against,” he said.  

'Labour also in debt' - Grech

Discussing the party’s dire financial situation, Grech said the Labour Party too had debts “running into millions” adding that it had more debts than the PN in certain areas. He said Labour was not as honest about its debts as the PN was.

“I revealed the party’s debt because that is my way of being honest and authentic with the party’s supporters so that they too can take ownership of the solution,” he said.

Previous PN administrations had sought to reduce costs and slash headcounts within party operations, he said. Some PN clubs were commercialised, with parts turned into restaurants - something Grech said was an option that other could be adopted for other clubs. 

“I am confident that if everyone continues to pull the same rope, we can continue addressing the situation. There are different options that are being explored.

"Someone made a calculation that if all those who voted for PN paid an amount of money, all the debt would be paid off. But it’s not that straightforward. Last July, we had launched a scheme whereby people could set up a standing order for a monthly donation. I intend to push this in the coming months,” he said.

Internal divisions within the PN 

Grech said that although the electoral result was disappointing, it will lead to more changes and renewal of the party structures. “Before fixing the financial situation, we cannot improve the party’s operations. Once this is addressed, I will have more leeway to take certain decisions,” he said.

He spoke about the “operational deficit” afflicting the Opposition, noting that the ruling Labour Party could rely on government officials to help it out. 

Meanwhile, the other side of parliament had MPs who had full-time jobs to do apart from their parliamentary work. This is “unacceptable”, he said. 

As Opposition leader, he only had his salary and driver paid by the state. He did not have a secretary or backup staff to help him with his work, he said. “It has always been like that, but it must change.”

Turning to internal turmoil, Grech insisted on the need for more self-discipline within party ranks, saying people had to understand that they formed part of a party and had to pull the same rope.

He said it was unacceptable that people were damaging the party internally, even by showing that people were not in unison.  

Asked about former MP Jason Azzopardi, Grech said he still had a lot to offer despite not being elected to parliament as there were different ways he could help. He, however, "categorically denied" that he had been deliberately sidelined, as the former MP has claimed. 

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