The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

Watch: It is our duty to support Delia and give him our 110% – Jason Azzopardi

Julian Bonnici Sunday, 18 February 2018, 09:00 Last update: about 8 months ago

Jason Azzopardi, the Opposition's new spokesman for the Environment, has insisted it is essential that the Nationalist Party is united behind its leader, Adrian Delia, and realise that its "hurdle, adversary, is not anyone within [their] ranks, but the government and institutionalised corruption".

Speaking in the first of a two-part interview in today's edition of The Malta Independent on Sunday, Azzopardi addressed questions about the feisty leadership election that took place last summer, saying that "whatever happened in the race is water under the bridge" and that "various divergent opinions are to be expected in any organisation, more so in a political party.

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"What is crucial is that, once the decision has been taken, you begin to move forward, he said. "Whatever happened prior to the election is water under the bridge and I've shown this in that I have continued to work assiduously and to the best of my abilities," he said.

"Irrespective of how good you are as a leader, you need everyone to help and I can assure you that my colleagues and I are offering and giving our leader our support 110 per cent. It is our moral duty at the moment to support him and back him to the hilt."

Dr Jason Azzopardi - PN and Leadership from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

The Nationalist Party leadership election last summer brought the in-fighting between the party's factions to the forefront of the national discussion. With the advent of a new Shadow Cabinet, it appears that PN leader Adrian Delia is aiming to mend open wounds.

SLAPP has also been central to parliamentary debates presented by Azzopardi over the recent weeks, which he says exposes the government's hypocritical stance when it comes to civil liberties, noting that they have failed to protect the most fundamental issues when addressing the multi-million dollar lawsuits being imposed on Maltese media houses by foreign organisations.

 

It is fair to say that there was a certain degree of animosity between factions within the PN during the leadership election. How would you describe your relationship with Adrian Delia now?

It's very correct, it's loyal. Various diverse opinions are to be expected in any organisation, more so in a political party. What is crucial is that once a decision has been taken, you begin to move forward. Whatever happened before the election is water under the bridge and I've shown this in the way I have continued to work assiduously and to the best of my abilities.

What is important is that, as a party, we can all move forward. Of course, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, but I think we're moving in the right direction.

Do you still believe that Adrian Delia is a 'Trojan Horse' and do you regret saying that?

What ever happened in the race is water under the bridge, and you cannot take words out of context. What I think is more important is not what someone says in the heat of the moment in the competitive atmosphere of an election. After the vote, after the election, do you sulk? Do you change your output as an MP? I think my record speaks for itself: I think I've continued working under full steam.

 

You have been going to the European Parliament recently, and have also been seen close to various foreign MEPS. Are you interested in contesting the MEP elections and if the PN loses one seat, do you believe Delia should resign?

Absolutely not: I was only invited by the chairman of the PANA Committee. With regard to the second question, politics has taught me that if you want to be a successful politician, never try to be a prophet. Delia has said that his goal is the general election, but your question is purely hypothetical. A week is a long time in politics and between now and May of next year a lot will happen in the political and legal sphere.

Dr Jason Azzopardi - Coalition from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

Were you in favour of the coalition between the PN and PD?

There was a healthy debate when this was discussed by the executive council and a decision was taken. The result was what it was, but I believe the decision was taken on the basis of the information and data Simon Busuttil had been given by people who had access. I believe we should base a decision on the factors applicable at that time, and not with the benefit of hindsight.

The new leader has the absolute right to retain or reverse a decision; I have always shown absolute loyalty to my Leader and the leadership. I have the utmost respect for Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia and we often find ourselves agreeing with each other - over Zonqor, for example.

 

You and Simon Busuttil are close working colleagues and I am sure that, in the last election, you advised him on a number of strategies. And yet the party lost by a historical amount. What advice would you give Delia to avoid suffering another historical defeat?

It would be presumptuous of me to give public advice to my Leader, but I do meet him and talk on a regular basis beyond issues in my portfolio. We are building a healthy and strong, mutually respectful, relationship. If I would say one thing, it's simple: be yourself. He has a strong and assertive character and has a clear idea of how to move forward.

We need to realise that our hurdle, our adversary, is not anyone in our own ranks but the government and institutionalised corruption. Irrespective of how good you are as a leader, you need everyone to help, and I can assure you that my colleagues and I are giving and offering ours 101 per cent. It is our moral duty at the moment to support him and back him to the hilt.

Our major hurdle is to convince people of the real situation, as corruption will have its consequences. It's useless for the government to repeat that we have the best economy when it is not sustainable. Are there any new industries? No. The only thing that the government came up with was the sale of passports and the production of medicinal marijuana. Do they have the same headaches of rising oil prices and the strife in Libya as we did when I formed part of cabinet? We need to prepare for a rainy day. The progress is positive, but if there was no corruption we would see a much greater distribution of wealth.

 

SLAPP is an subject on which you have placed particular focus, using strong words in Parliament by saying the OPM is colluding with big businesses. Did you say it there to invoke your parliamentary privilege?

I can repeat it here, no problem. I am sure that the OPM knew and colluded with Henley and Partners, and Pilatus Bank, to threaten and - in one case - file a SLAPP lawsuit.  On 31 May last year, Daphne Caruana Galizia revealed a private email between Owen Bonnici, Identity Malta, Chris Kalin of Henley and Partners, Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri colluding to silence her - one of the country's foremost journalists - and me, an MP. In a normal country, this would have been a national scandal and a reason for resignation but, of course, we have gone beyond that.

In May, Pilatus Bank also filed a US$40 million lawsuit in Arizona against Daphne, which she never knew about. On the day of her murder, Pilatus engaged the services of a Washington-based law firm, Lawrence Law Group, and a London-based firm, Shillings, to write letters to the major media organisations and journalists in the country threatening them with multi-million dollar lawsuits.

And are you yet to receive any form of reply regarding the Parliamentary motion on the issue?

Yes, we are still waiting for a reply and for the government to give us a sitting. If nothing happens, we will wait two months until the Opposition has the opportunity. I do recognise that, in the sphere of civil liberties, the government has registered substantial and much-needed progress. However, this jars when this same government, two years ago, removed 'vilification of religion' on the "basis of the absolute right to freedom of expression", according to the Culture Minister. Why do we have a situation where our media, journalists, and MPs are being threatened with US$40 million lawsuits while the government completely ignores the situation?

'Civil liberties' is not merely a case of painting a rainbow-coloured zebra crossing but of always protecting the most basic liberty of them all: the freedom of the press and expression. We will see the government's true colours when this is discussed in Parliament.

It is also odd that, a couple of years ago, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of a Maltese-registered gaming company that would not enforce a legal ruling in France as it was against public policy, yet cannot apply the same laws to protect our journalists.

 

You are one of the lawyers of Jonathan Ferris, who has been accused by the Labour Party media of leaking FIAU reports and essentially breaking the law. As a former Shadow Minister for Justice, do you agree with this analysis?

Since I, along with two other lawyers, am representing Jonathan Ferris in this long, drawn-out saga for him to be recognised as a whistleblower, I do not think it is either prudent or in Jonathan's interests to comment directly. What I will say is that he did not breach any law. Also, and objectively speaking, the government is using two weights and two measures with regard to whistleblowers: you have two examples of whistleblowers against former ministers being awarded several direct orders - with a certain Magro company, Tek Ltd, being awarded probably more than a million euros.

In this case, it has been close to four months and Jonathan's request has still not been granted, but I feel there will be developments in the near future. This is another example of the government's hypocrisy when it comes to promoting civil liberties. When it does not suit them, it commits character assassinations against these whistleblowers, through threat of financial ruin.

 

The second part of this interview will be published in The Malta Independent on Monday

 

 


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