Tista' taqra bil- Malti.
Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi was referred to the Privileges Committee after Speaker Anġlu Farrugia ruled that there was a prima facie breach of privilege when he claimed former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had known of an assassination plot on Daphne Caruana Galizia ahead of the 2017 election.
Azzopardi refused to withdraw this claim when invited to do so by Farrugia, stating that he looked forward to seeing the truth come out in front of the Privileges Committee.
In an adjournment speech in a morning sitting last Wednesday, Azzopardi first made the claim but then clarified that he could only see two reasons behind Muscat’s decision to call for an early election in 2017.
The best-case scenario, he said, was that Muscat was aware that Caruana Galizia would expose corrupt dealings in Montenegro, which he said where the reason for her murder. The worst case scenario, as he had earlier maintained, was prior knowledge of the murder plot.
In an angry outburst at the start of the next parliamentary sitting that same day, Muscat said that while he could let repeated insinuations that he was corrupt slide, he could not accept the “baseless claims” made by Azzopardi, before making a breach of privilege complaint.
In his ruling, Farrugia cited Standing Order 60, which states that no MP “shall use offensive or unbecoming words,” in reference to another, or to attribute bad motive to any other MP.
Farrugia then cited the UK’s Erskine May, which states that “good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language,” before stating that Azzopardi’s claims could not be considered such. He also referred to procedures in the Canadian House of Commons.
At this point, the Speaker asked Azzopardi to withdraw his comment, but on Azzopardi’s adamant refusal to do so, said that he had no option but to refer him to the committee, as there appeared to be a prima facie breach of parliamentary privilege.
Farrugia also reiterated his appeal that all MPs should be measured in their remarks.
Muscat reiterates opposition to parliamentary privilege
Muscat took to Facebook to welcome the Speaker’s ruling, which he described as unequivocal.
He insisted that in spite of criticism he may have received, he always respected freedom of expression, even when he felt criticism was “crude, exaggerated or invented,” but said that Azzopardi’s claim was a lie too far.
But he also seized the opportunity to state that it was time to end parliamentary privilege and parliamentary immunity.
“Parliamentary privilege was created with good intentions in another time, when the world was different. But nowadays, privilege – and especially immunity – are past their time, particularly when they are abused by MPs who one may expect much better from,” he wrote.
He noted that the government’s electoral programme had called for a reform of parliamentary privilege and a removal of parliamentary immunity, expressing his hope that these measures would be implemented.
Azzopardi planning to call many witnesses – including prison inmates
Azzopardi also took to Facebook to react to the ruling, reiterating that he refused to retract his statement for various reasons, including that he had made the same comments outside of Parliament – where parliamentary privilege and immunity would not apply.
He also noted that he was responding to “shocking” facts that had just come out during court testimony on the same day of his speech.
“God forbid that an MP is not allowed to analyse, interpret and reach conclusions from facts that have been forensically established. What sort of MP would they be otherwise,” Azzopardi asked.
The MP said that in line with parliamentary procedure, he would be appealing the Speaker’s ruling, though since government holds a majority, he fully expected the matter to end up in committee.
“There I intend to summon dozens of witnesses, of whom some may presently be found at the Corradino Correctional Facility,” he said. “And then we will see who really told the truth.”
Azzopardi has defamed others several times – PL
The Labour Party (PL) has stated that Azzopardi ought to be condemned for his abuse of parliamentary privilege to defame others who disagree with his opinions.
In a statement, the PL went on to say that this isn’t the first time that Azzopardi has flouted the rule of law. Only a little over two weeks ago, he was unable to substantiate the claims he made in Court about Minister for Education Owen Bonnici, amongst others.
Furthermore, the statement outlined that Azzopardi had also made serious allegations in Court regarding the voluntary murder of immigrants on the behalf of the PM, the Brigadier, and of attempted murder as enacted by members of the Armed Forces. These allegations were disregarded.