The parliamentary ethics committee voted in favour of forwarding all the evidence compiled on former parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar’s involvement in the sale of a property by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler to the tax commissioner as well as the transcripts of the committee meetings held on this issue so far and also call for the tax commissioner’s sworn testimony.
In another tumultuous meeting held on Thursday morning, government whip Glenn Bedingfield and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis followed committee chair Anġlu Farrugia’s recommendation, which had led to the suspension of the previous sitting as opposition MPs Karol Aquilina and Therese Comodini Cachia disagreed with the position taken.
Aquilina and Comodini Cachia insisted on a list of 16 witnesses they wished to summon, including committee member Zammit Lewis and Cutajar as the subject of Hyzler’s report which declared she had committed an ethics breach according to the results of his investigation.
Government MPs, egged on by Farrugia, insisted on providing no guarantees sought by the opposition’s committee members for the summoning of further witnesses beyond the tax commissioner, who had started his own, separate investigation into whether Cutajar also breached laws within his remit.
The last session was suspended by Farrugia when he walked out. The committee chair’s casting vote had rejected a proposal filed by opposition MPs, who kept insisting that other witnesses besides tax commissioner Martin Gaerty should be summoned for the next sitting.
On Thursday morning, the same positions were kept on all sides, with the main stumbling block revolving around the specifics of what sort of “additional investigation” should be conducted by the committee.
After the committee chair stood by his position multiple times, agreeing with government MPs that the tax commissioner should be the first witness to be heard out, with the final vote on any “additional investigation” ruling that Gaerty will now receive all relevant information compiled by Hyzler and be summoned to testify.
No specific date for the next phase of the hearing was established. While Aquilina insisted that Gaerty should be summoned “first thing tomorrow morning”, Farrugia rebutted that time needs to be given to Gaerty to go over the evidence.
In spite of the committee chair’s renewed efforts to maintain order within the meeting by switching off microphones when interventions were made out of turn, animosity between government and opposition members was nonetheless present.
Bedingfield accused opposition MPs of “arrogance that trumps every sense of respect”, Comodini Cachia accused government MPs and the committee’s chair of setting up a position that would lead to a refusal of any further witnesses being heard when Gaerty’s testimony is eventually heard.
“As I said last time, the tax commissioner was certainly not waiting for us to start his investigation when the information is in the public domain. We have no issues with sending everything over in a formal request, but he has most of the documentation needed,” Comodini Cachia insisted, with Farrugia complaining that the opposition’s MP “does not get to decide what information the tax commissioner needs”.
“As far as I know, the tax commissioner can follow us live, like everyone else,” Comodini Cachia argued, with both opposition MPs accusing Farrugia of taking a “U-turn” when he said that he wanted to continue investigating the case but only after Gaerty’s testimony as well as denying the right to hearing all relevant witnesses as enshrined in the legislation that set up the committee.
“You’re setting this up in bad faith so the tax commissioner can say that he had started investigating and we therefore have to drop the case,” she added, referring to how Hyzler himself had stated that he would have dropped the investigation if he knew Gaerty had taken up the investigation from his end.
In spite of opposition MPs urging the committee to immediately hear out all relevant witnesses and agree to a schedule, with Aquilina declaring the tax commissioner’s investigation as a separate thread from the committee’s remit, the committee’s chair as well as government MPs refused to budge from their position.