The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Updated (6): Toni Abela nomination rejected; PL blames 'poisoned' campaign; 'sad day' - PN

Helena Grech Tuesday, 15 March 2016, 11:15 Last update: about 7 years ago

The European Parliament today has rejected the Malta government's nomination of Toni Abela to serve on the European Court of Auditors.

17 members of the European Parliament's budgetary committee voted against the nomination and nine voted in favour.

Contacted by The Malta Independent at 4.45pm, a few minutes after the committee's decision, a downcast Dr Abela said that he had no comments to give at this stage but other media are reporting Dr Toni Abela saying that "it's all over for me", possibly hinting that he will be retiring his nomination to sit at the European Court of Auditors. 

The committee also rejected the nominations of Poland and Slovakia.

The committee's job was to evaluate Dr Abela's nomination and recommend it or otherwise to the European Parliament. A final vote still needs to be taken during a European Parliament plenary session.

By the looks of it, the socialists group was not united on backing Toni Abela's nomination, while the greens, who had pledged their support, were the ones who raised doubts about Abela's independence and competence.

In fact, it was Green MP and rapporteur Igor Soltes who raised the questions which put the final nails in Toni Abela's coffin.

It is still unclear whether efforts made by the Nationalists MEPs to finds support for Toni Abela within the EPP were fruitful or not. 

This news comes just a few days after the government had to face another refusal on a European level, that of Silvio Camilleri who failed the European Court of Justice screening. 

Government reacts

In a reaction, the Maltese government issued a statement expressing its disappointment over the news that Dr Toni Abela did not make it to the European Court of Auditors. It referred to the nominees by Poland and Slovakia who were also rejected.

The Maltese government thanked the Socialist and Democrats Group and the Greens for supporting Dr Abela's nomination.

"Government is disappointed to see that there are those whose interest was to tarnish Toni Abela's reputation, a person well-known for his integrity," it concludes.

Scandals at Castille have damaged Malta's reputation - PN

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said that Dr Toni Abela has failed to convincingly answer the questions put to him by MEPs on his experience and expertise.   

"It is clear that the Prime Minister's reluctance to take the necessary action on the recent corruption scandals that hit Castille continue to damage Malta.This is a sad day for Malta's reputation and the Prime Minister's actions continue to embarrass Malta and the Maltese people," PN said.  

The Nationalist Party called on the Prime Minister to put the national interest before his personal and political ends.

The above image shows a social media post, uploaded to Twitter by Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil which reads "Sad day for Malta's reputation and the actions of Joseph Muscat continue to embarass Malta and the Maltese."

AD reaction

In comments after the decision, Alternattiva Demokratika Chairperson, Prof. Arnold Cassola, said: "This is the second thumbs down in the space of three weeks, following the outcome of Judge Silvio Camilleri's interview.  These are terrible blows for the prestige of our country at international level. Unfortunately, the John Dalli case had already cast a shadow on Malta.

"Now, the present Panamagate and the unethical behaviour of Prime Minister Muscat and his closest aides has compounded the blurred view of our country in the eyes of European Members of Parliament. It is very unfair that Toni Abela (who was one of the founders of AD in 1989) has had to pay for the unethical behaviour of our national leaders, Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri".

It all depended on today's hearing and how prepared Dr Abela was

Head of the PN delegation at the European Parliament, David Casa told The Malta Independent that none of the Maltese MEPs were involved in the vote and explained that the Maltese MEPs provided all the help that was asked for.

"It always depended on today's hearing and how prepared he was to the questions raised," he added.

Dr Casa explained that it would be a real pity to criticize the European People's Party because it was not the only party that voted against Dr Abela's nomination.

"But it is also a pity for Malta. We don't like to see these things happening."

Hearing was poisoned with misinformation - PL

The Labour Party delegation at the European Parliament said that Dr Abela did not deserve to lose this vote. "He was clear, detailed and honest in his replies," PL said.

"It is clear that his hearing was poisoned with misinformation that was spread anonymously in the last weeks," the delegation added.

The statement also noted that most of the questions asked were related to the technical experience rather than on the wide competence of Dr Abela. 

***

Earlier:

Outgoing Labour Deputy Leader Toni Abela today said that he has “never done anything that is in breach of the law,” in response to reports about an alleged drug scandal he was embroiled in before the last election.

Addressing the European Parliament as part of the process to appoint him as a member of the European Court of Auditors, Dr Abela was questioned about his connection to an incident before the 2013 election, famously known in Malta as the “white block” case.  

A recording had emerged of Dr Abela describing how a PL club leader stumbled upon a barman carving up “a white block", which was interpreted to have been referring to drugs.

In his opening address, Dr Abela said that “After publication [of the recording] I willingly went to the police commissioner without fear of investigation. The next day Police Commissioner explained that he had not found anything wrong, and the matter stopped there. Today, the present police commissioner declared that there is nothing pending against me,” he said.

“As a lawyer I have focused on defending the rights of citizens of Malta in all aspects of the law. I have dealt with public finance as a consequence of good governance. This constitutes proof of experience.”

“I have always maintained integrity and never feared to take the right decisions in the face of harsh criticism.”

Dr Abela said that taking a look at the articles he has published over the last three years is proof of his integrity, stating that he has always criticised what needs to be criticised, whether it is directed at a party he forms part of or not.

Questions were raised about his lack of experience in auditing, having spent most of his career as a lawyer and working in politics.

In response to this, he said that he has much experience in this field in a wider sense:

“My auditees were governments, public authorities and public officials.”

Questioned about his impartiality, Dr Abela declined to comment about the current scandal in Malta dubbed as Panamagate.

Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff were concurrently discovered to be in possession of a trust registered in New Zealand which contains Panamanian companies.

“It is not for me to judge. Since I am trying to become a member of the European Court of Auditors, I should not comment. If anything wrong has been done, let it be discovered. I do not think it is within my remit to comment however on a political situation. I want to reassure everybody that I surely did not advise the Prime Minister or suggest anything to him about what is going on [Panamagate] right now.”

Grilled on the occasions where Dr Abela was censored by the courts, he explained how this happens to lawyers in Malta around four to five times a day. He asked the MEPs to understand his temperament, and that in Malta it is normal for a spirited legal debate between lawyers to take place.

“It is our type of culture.”

Focus again shifted to the ‘white block’ case, on which he said:

“For a good three years, after I explained everything in public, and how everything that was said in the recording was taken out of context. I explained how I did everything for the good of the party.”

“Nothing on my part had ever happened, I was never judged to have breached the law. I was only trying to instil discipline, and tell people not to break the law. Nobody said anything for the past three years, now it has resurfaced. I was investigated and judged by the electorate, but here it is again.”

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