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Top News • 11 July 2007

Different weights for different ministers

John Dalli’s resignation three years ago and the reasons behind the Prime Minister’s decision to accept it have resurfaced following Lawrence Gonzi’s decision not to accept transport minister Jesmond Mugliett’s resignation last week, MATTHEW VELLA writes.

If Lawrence Gonzi had found nothing to substantiate allegations made against John Dalli, why had he accepted his resignation back in 2004? The answer seems no clearer today than it was three years ago, as it is revealed that Dalli has never been the subject of any investigation by the Auditor General, while Jesmond Mugliett’s actions have also convinced the PM there are no grounds of corruption on which to accept the roads minister’s resignation.
Two ministers, both found to have not acted incorrectly in their government roles, but a different outcome for the PM’s former leadership rival.
With an audit by the Auditor General into the procurement of air tickets by government ministries in its final stages, the news that neither Dalli nor his former ministry are not the subject of this ‘investigation’ carries more weight today, after the Nationalist MP yesterday told MaltaToday that the Tourist Resources saga had been the “excuse” for Gonzi to accept his resignation.
Yesterday the Office of the Prime Minister said there was no relation between the resignations of Dalli and Mugliett, the latter accused by the Opposition of misleading parliament on the reinstatement of two ADT officials which were publicly indicted by a court.
In the John Dalli case, the OPM said yesterday, “the Prime Minister accepted the explanation given by John Dalli on the IRISL issue” – referring to Gonzi’s response to Dalli’s resignation letter that the IRISL allegations had been “unsubstantiated”.
But as for the suggestion by John Dalli himself in his resignation letter to refer the airline tickets case to the Auditor General, the OPM skirted the issue by stating that the matter is “still sub judice” – an incorrect terminology given that the case is not being investigated by any court of law, but is in fact a general and overarching audit of all the ministries’ procurement practices.
So if John Dalli has never been the focus of any investigation, how did the airline tickets saga come to bear so much upon the Prime Minister’s acceptation of Dalli’s resignation?
Dalli’s accusation is that the ‘excuse’ used by the PM had as a background the fact that he had come into possession of the Joe Zahra report in June 2004, later found to have been fabricated, which implicated Dalli’s brother Sebastian in a kickback over a multi-million hospital equipment contract.
“The prime minister had been in possession of that report but it had not yet been sent for investigation by the police,” Dalli told MaltaToday yesterday. “And the air tickets story was brought up as an excuse to justify the decision to accept my resignation.”
And since 2004, the impression given was that Dalli was being ‘investigated’ over the way Lm40,000 in airline tickets had been purchased by the foreign ministry, when he was foreign minister, from the company Tourist Resources Ltd.
When the story broke out on 9 June 2004 in The Times, amid allegations that Dalli had wooed over the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) to be represented by Gauci Borda Shipping, whose director was his son-in-law, the news item was carried in full by PBS journalist Ivan Camilleri, whom Dalli has accused of having “kept up the attack on various occasions”.
He wrote in his resignation letter of 3 July 2004 that, “Wonder of wonders, PBS departed from their normal practice, and not only covered the same story but practically read out the Times report,” referring to Camilleri, the brother of Gonzi’s then communications coordinator Alan Camilleri.
From then on, it seemed it was on this basis that Gonzi had accepted Dalli’s resignation. Even Nationalist Party secretary-general Joe Saliba, speaking on Super One TV last December, referred to the case saying he believed John Dalli “will not be found to have done anything inappropriate” – again reinforcing the impression that Dalli’s prospects of re-entering the cabinet as a minister depended on the outcome of the audit by the Auditor General.
Last week however, Gonzi’s refusal to accept Jesmond Mugliett’s resignation brought back to the fore John Dalli’s departure from the Cabinet. The Office of the Prime Minister sys Gonzi did not see any grounds for accepting Mugliett’s offer of resignation, “as Minister Mugliett had never defended corruption and never tried to intervene to reverse the ADT board’s decision to terminate the employment of the employees concerned.”
As Gonzi himself stated, the decision to keep Mugliett on may be considered “debatable”. His decision on whether to accept Minister Mugliett’s was based on whether he considered the minister’s behaviour in this issue “as one that compromises his position as a minister,” an OPM spokesperson said.
And as in the John Dalli affair, a minister who has presented his resignation but whom Gonzi finds nothing that compromises his position, has been spared his demotion from the Cabinet.
But in an ‘investigation’ which has proved itself to be nothing but a rudimentary auditory exercise into procurement practices, the implications of John Dalli’s resignation ring loud to this day – short of any investigation that places Dalli under the lens of the prosecutor, why did Gonzi choose not to keep this minister in his Cabinet?


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Managing Editor - Saviour Balzan