Economy Minister Chris Cardona sees nothing wrong with “a seasoned lawyer like [PN Deputy Leader] Mario de Marco” to offer his legal services to businesses, so long as any interests are declared.
He was replying to questions by The Malta Independent on the ongoing db Group/PN saga.
Dr de Marco has been under fire by the PL, and also by certain elements within the PN, after it emerged that his legal firm was involved with the db Group – the business group belonging to Silvio Debono which has been awarded a concession over public land din Paceville on which intends to build a hotel, luxury apartments and shopping mall. Dr de Marco ended up in an uncomfortable situation after the PN attacked the land transfer deal, which it has asked the Auditor General to investigate. Dr de Marco has been asked by PN Leader Simon Busuttil not to work for the db Group on any project.
This complicated story is underpinned by two main issues: that while MPs remain part-time, issues of conflicts of interest, impartiality and acting in the interest of the country is called into question; the second exposes the way Malta’s system whereby political parties can only survive on donations means that the de facto rulers of Malta are big businessmen with deep pockets.
This government had commissioned a study on full time MPs. In light of the professionals who sit on both sides of the House, architects, lawyers etc, this newsroom asked that while it is able to criticise the PN for its situation, the PL is in a precarious position because it could be next when the next conflict of interest story emerges.
Asked whether the next logical step is for the government to push for fulltime MPs, Dr Cardona said:
I think it’s very convenient for the PN to start and stir this argument. I believe that the present situation in which of course if you are a member of the executive your professional career has to be put on the backburner does make sense, because you cannot have a conflict of interest by a minister who has to take policy decisions or political direction.
“MPs however, I believe, have shown maturity in so far where their interests are concerned. And they have to declare it of course, as Dr de Marco did. I think there is nothing wrong with a seasoned lawyer like Dr Mario de Marco to give advice to one of the largest group of hospitality in Malta in order to represent them with the authorities.”
Big Business and Donations
On the issue of donations by big business, Dr Cardona said: “The PL has always maintained transparency and accountability. We were the first party to declare the donations given to the PL, we were the party in government to introduce the new law of party financing. After 25 years of doing nothing the PN has shown that as a party it does not really want to conform with the legislation in the coming weeks we will have the necessary statutory amendments, and as soon as we do that we will register, and the donations will be declared in accordance with the law on party financing, which creates some different bands of donations.”
DB Group, whose chairman is Silvio Camilleri of the Seabank and San Antonio Hotel, asked the PN to return donations after the opposition chose to refer the contract between db Group and the Government over the transfer of former Institute of Tourism Studies land at St George’s Bay from the latter to the former to the Auditor General. The Opposition took umbrage with the valuation of the land, carried out by Delloitte, of €60 million. After the contract was signed (without parliamentary scrutiny) and made public, it was discovered that db Group would have to pay just €15 million (€5 million up front), while the remainder €45 million would be collected through the redemption of ground rent
Guido de Marco & Associates, a law firm where Deputy Leader de Marco forms part of, were paid to consult db Group on the deal. Criticism has been levelled against Dr de Marco for forming part of a party that opposed the project, but being paid to assist in the project. He maintains that once it became apparent that the deal was a political hot potato, he suspended himself from the brief.
No Portfolio Minister Konrad Mizzi, who was caught out with a secret company in Panama, said that Dr de Marco negotiated the contract “clause by clause” in comments to this newsroom, adding that he also was involved in negotiations of the price. Dr de Marco vehemently denies this.
In addition, Mr Camilleri of db Group is claiming to have given donations to the PN that far exceed the €25,000 limit allowed by the party financing law. The PN say that the €70,000 quoted by db Group as donations were in fact transactions of a commercial nature between the influential business man and the PN’s media entity MediaLink. He failed to divulge details of the commercial transactions.