A budget bill was approved without a vote in Parliament this afternoon before Opposition MPs realised what had happened, leading to a heated argument between government and opposition MPs.
Ultimately, however, it was agreed that the vote on the Budget Measures Implementation Bill – in its third and final reading – would be retaken at the end of the sitting. Ultimately, the bill was approved by 33 votes to 19.
The vote was originally set to take place on 1 April, but was moved to today’s sitting in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. It was the first item on today’s agenda, and was initially approved without a vote as no opposition MP called for a division of the house as required.
Such an approval is extraordinarily rare: the Opposition routinely votes against budget bills since they are representative of the government’s policy.
Re-vote might create precedent, minister warns
However, the matter was eventually brought up by PN deputy leader David Agius, who protested that the agreement had been to vote on the matter at 7pm. But Speaker Anġlu Farrugia highlighted that the opposition failed to call for a division, as did government whip Glenn Bedingfield.
Bedingfield said that government was open to holding a new vote on the bill, but Minister Carmelo Abela warned against creating a precedent.
A war of words continued as Agius insisted that the government snuck in the bill earlier than the agreed-upon time and Bedingfield argued that the agenda was always the prerogative of the government of the day. Abela, on his part, insisted that the Opposition should admit to have made a mistake, so that the vote could be taken again without risk of creating a precedent.
No such admission was made, but with debate clearly heading nowhere and MPs shouting over each other, the Speaker ultimately ruled that MPs had agreed to suspend the standing order which prevented debate on a question that has been already voted upon.
The bill was thus presented again, and this time, a division of the house was called, scheduled for 7pm.
Fenech Adami decries surreal situation
Debate on the item on the agenda – a proposed amendment to the Explosives Ordinance – then continued, but PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami started out by describing the situation in parliament as surreal.
“The country is on its knees, people are falling ill from the coronavirus… hundreds if not thousands have lost their job,” Fenech Adami said, “and in the highest institution of the country, we spent 20 minutes squabbling on how to take a vote at 7pm.”
The MP said that what had happened showed how Parliament was dysfunctional, and that the government failed to show it the respect due.
He lamented that instead of discussing a national emergency today, the government chose to postpone discussion for tomorrow to discuss a simple amendment on an unrelated issue.
“I wonder what those who are watching us might be thinking,” Fenech Adami said.