Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Maltese government survives Panama Papers controversy

  • Maltese people are divided over whether they believe the government is corrupt (Photo: Berit Watkin)

The Maltese government won a vote of confidence on Monday (18 April) two weeks after the Panama Papers shed light on shady deals by several officials.

Following a 13-hour debate, MPs backed the government by 38 votes to 31.

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“We accept this scrutiny, but our duty is to keep working in the next two years to show that this Malta is truly everybody’s,” prime minister Joseph Muscat said during the debate.

He added that the opposition led by the Nationalist Party (PN) had proposed no alternative about what it would do in power.

The PN had provoked the debate after the Panama Papers revealed that the energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri owned companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand.

On 10 April, a week after Panama Papers started to be published in the international press, several thousand people led by PN's leader Simon Busuttil demonstrated to ask for Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri's resignation.

Addressing MPs before the vote on Monday, Busuttil said Muscat "ran down the trust he was given by the people".

"Prime minister, you can run but you cannot hide. You can win in this house, but you will have lost the people’s heart out there,” he said.

“It has been eight weeks since Konrad Mizzi was found to have made use of an offshore company, when the prime minister had said that he would kicked out any politician caught misbehaving, the day after.”

He said bank accounts Mizzi and Schembri wanted to open necessitated a $1 million deposit.

"If this is not a problem for you, prime minister, this is a problem for the Maltese people,” he said.

'Not the best choice'

In his defence, Mizzi admitted that Panama “wasn’t the best choice” of location for his company, but he said he was open to scrutiny.

"I accept this trial by media, which I accept because I am a pubic figure. However, I don’t want to be judged through this trial, by misleading facts, email extracts and emails that are completely unrelated to me," he told MPs.

“I would rather await the results of the independent audit and the tax audit, the latter which I requested myself in what was an unprecedented move in local politics.”

During the debate, PM Muscat regretted that the controversy "distracted from the government’s successes" and stressed that poverty had been reduced.

His government could however continue to be embarrassed.

According to a poll published by the Malta Independent Monday morning, before the debate and confidence vote, 41.2 percent of Maltese believe the government is corrupt, compared with 38.7 percent who think it is not.

Malta denies secrecy in 'Paradise Papers' leak

Malta's finance minister Edward Scicluna told reporters that the Maltese-based entities named in the latest tax avoidance leaks are all listed on a public register. "There was no secrecy whatsoever," he said.

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