The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

This summer is make or break for the PN - Jean Pierre Debono

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 9 June 2019, 10:15 Last update: about 5 months ago

Following the political crisis that engulfed the PN over the past few days, Chief Political Coordinator Jean Pierre Debono says that the PN has to act “fast,” adding that “this summer is make or break for the PN.” Last week, Debono narrowly won a co-option vote contested also by Gozitan MP Kevin Cutajar, for the seat vacated by David Stellini. Later, he renounced the seat after alleged voting irregularities. Debono spoke to Rebekah Cilia about the mistake that was made in the voting list, the people he claims are attacking the party, and on whether PN Leader Adrian Delia should call for a vote of confidence.

Adrian Delia - vote of confidence

When asked if it would be better for the party if Delia called a vote of confidence, Debono insisted this was Delia’s decision but in the past, when previous leaders, especially Lawrence Gonzi, went down the same route, it did not solve anything, despite the former prime minister having won the vote by 98 per cent.

“One of the problems I see with Adrian Delia is he was not really given a chance.”

Debono believes that it is more a case of people fuelling speculation in the media, saying a vote of confidence should be called when, in reality, this is not the case. He notes that not every issue should result in a vote of confidence and there are internal party structures to call for such a move if people want a change in leadership.

“If I were in Adrian Delia’s place, I do not know what I would do because the situation is so complex.”

Debono insisted that if he believed a vote of confidence would solve the problems, he would tell Delia to go for it, but taking note of Lawerence Gonzi’s experience, he does not believe this to be the case.

He also believes that the problems did not start when Delia became leader, but rather in 2004, when Eddie Fenech Adami resigned and Gonzi became leader. “A seed was sewn then and the divisions started to grow.”

Past elections or votes of confidence have only created more problems, Debono explains, adding, however, that it is not healthy for a democracy to have a party going through such turmoil.

Debono also mentioned seeking help from veteran party members who have faced similar situations, but did not specify who such people might include.


‘Others could take a step or two back’

Asked why no one has resigned in light of the party’s huge electoral defeat, Debono said that everyone needed to forget their ego and territory, and that everyone had to give something up.

Debono said he had given up his position twice over the past two years so, when asked whether others should do the same, he noted: “There is no need for a resignations, but taking a step or two back for the good of the party.”


Internal people attacking the party

Asked who the “usual people” attacking the party were, as mentioned in his letter to Delia, Debono refused to name names, saying that even before the Kevin Cutajar affair, Facebook had already been filled with comments on who the executive should vote for.

“There were people already setting the agenda. You can go on Facebook and find them. I do not want to mention names. These are people who have served on the executive committee, have experience and know this discussion has no place on Facebook.”

When asked what was going to be done about these people, Debono said that the blame game and cutting people off from the party was not the way forward and was the worst thing that could be done.

Debono, however, continued to say that the situation needed to be taken into consideration.

He also noted that should Delia continue to lead the party – as appears to be the case – he must consider the right way forward and make every effort to get everyone on board. He added that, if at some point there is an agreement with everyone and someone is out of line, decisions need to be taken.

“You cannot have a party, in these circumstances, without rules of the game, without boundaries and with people doing as they please.”

“We need to be clear what the parameters are. If someone does not want to follow these, then they would need to make a decision. If you do not make that decision, the party structures will make it for you.”

Debono said he had told (former executive president) Mark Anthony Sammut after the meeting that he agreed with a lot of things he had said, but not with his resignation. Debono believes that, at this stage, people leaving and making people leave is not good for the party as people still need to lead it towards change.

“It is an abandon-ship mentality,” Debono explains, using the analogy of taking a ship to the next port and then in the next port the crew and captain could change.

Something has to be done, however, Debono insists, citing the previous executive, where information was being leaked to the media. This, Debono noted, was stopping people from giving constructive criticism for fear of it being leaked and misinterpreted as an attempt to damage the party.

Debono also commented that “there is more self-discipline from Labour supporters regarding criticism of the government and their party. Our people feel more at ease to discuss.”


Mistake in co-option voting list

Debono claims that a “genuine mistake” was made in the list of eligible voters used for last week’s co-option vote. Neither David Camilleri nor David Stellini should have been on the list, yet the necessary updates to remove their votes had not been carried out.

Conceding that an error had occurred, Debono said that this had led to a more worrying situation, with people implying fraud, among other things.

When asked who was responsible for updating the list, Debono said that “this is not a matter of whose role it was.” He said that no one had pointed out that David Camilleri did not have a vote and it was “something that escaped everyone.”

Debono also confirmed that no one denied that Stellini should have been taken off the list between the 31 May and 1 June.

“Someone told me I should have flagged this. Imagine if I had stood up and said David Stellini should not vote. They would have said that I want to steal the chair from Gozo and take the votes from the Gozitans.”

Debono denied knowing that Camilleri did not have a vote: “I had the list and followed it.”

On Indepth, Mark Anthony Sammut mentioned that he had seen the voting list just two minutes before the start of the meeting, and when asked about this, Debono replied: “Before the meeting, Mark Anthony Sammut came up to me and asked me for the things related to the election. I told him I have nothing because I have an interest so the things will not come from me.”

Debono insists he was not at the meeting so does not know who gave Sammut the list. “As president of the executive, Sammut can ask for the list whenever he wants to and can verify it at any time,” Debono explained. However, he failed to state why it had not been sent to him earlier.

When his claim not to have had the list was challenged, given his role as chief political coordinator, Debono said the list was held by the secretariat and several people had access to it. “I do make most updates to it,” Debono insisted.

Jason Azzopardi had posted on Facebook a screenshot of the list showing Debono as the person who had last modified it. When questioned about this, Debono said he made no modifications but that his name was simply there because he had extracted the list and sent it straight to the office of the secretary-general.

According to Debono, the list is not put together by anyone in particular but is added to over time. Sammut, he said, had contacted him during previous elections to tell him whom to put on the list. Stellini had mentioned several times prior that he would make every effort to be at that meeting to vote on behalf of the Gozitans, and also stood up at the meeting saying he was going to vote, Debono explained, adding that no one had spoken out about the fact that he did not have the right to vote at the time.

He said that Stellini claimed that after the meeting someone told him he did not have the right to vote, with Debono explaining, “So they only told him about this after the meeting?”

When asked if he knew who this person was, Debono said he would not know and to ask Stellini. “This is surely not in the interest of the party.”

For those who have an agenda, Debono said, ‘without wanting to mention names’, this mistake was blown out of proportion.


Kristy Debono’s vote a conflict of interest?

Debono’s wife, Kristy Debono, took part in the first vote. Debono said he could not stop her from voting since she had every right to vote as the president of the general council and as an MP.

Asked why he did not voice his concerns that this might result in a conflict of interests, Debono explained “that it has always been this way… now we are choosing names. In a general election, people vote for themselves.”


No PN representation of the 7th district in Parliament

Following his decision not to take on the PN parliamentary seat, Debono said he had received a lot of backlash from people from the 7th district, since their representative is now actually PD’s Godfrey Farrugia.

While he said that Delia does stem from that district and does care about it, he is the leader and has extensive duties. On the other hand, Beppe Fenech Adami, although elected on both the 7th and 8th district, gave up the 7th district.

He also pointed out that the Gozitans have three representatives.

During last week’s executive, before the vote was taken, Debono was considering withdrawing his nomination. The internal conflict, because people from the 7th district were pressuring him to take it on, endured till Sunday evening, when he made his decision not take on the seat.

When asked if, perhaps, he should have made the decision prior to the vote, Debono admitted it would have been better for the party to have made the decision before.


Debono does not know the PN’s strategy team

Sammut, in the latest Indepth episode, was asked who the PN’s strategy team was for the last election, to which he replied that the question should be put to Adrian Delia.

Debono said he was not part of the team and he did know exactly who formed part, despite his role as chief political coordinator. He said that there were many involved, some from within the party and other from outside it, but “I do not need to know who the strategists or Adrian Delia’s advisers are.”

While saying he did not agree with everything in the strategy, he could openly contribute and discuss.

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