Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne has confronted Economy Minister Chris Cardona over his decision to extend the concession to the Dragonara Casino, Lovin Malta is reliably informed.
Fearne is the Labour Party’s deputy leader for parliamentary affairs while Cardona is the PL’s deputy leader for party affairs.
Earlier this month, Cardona tabled a parliamentary motion to extend the concession for the Paceville casino by 64 years and the motion was seconded by Fearne himself. The motion was approved without any debate at all after both sides of the House voted in favour of it without question.
However, the deal has since become quite a hot potato, with businesses reportedly threatening legal action and warning it has dealt a blow to Malta’s international reputation.
Now Lovin Malta is informed that Fearne told Cardona in front of other people that he had breached parliamentary procedure by presenting the motion directly to the House instead of to Parliament’s National Audit Office Accounts committee.
This committee, which Fearne chairs, is responsible for scrutinising concessions of government land before they are debated in the House.
Fearne was also heard telling Cardona that he had placed him in an embarrassing situation. The deputy Prime Minister said that he hadn’t known what his motion contained before seconding it and that he had only seconded it because he was following procedure as per his role as Leader of the House.
The Dragonara casino is run by a company owned by the Bianchi family business group and Johann Schembri, which was granted a ten-year concession by government-owned Casma Ltd to operate the casino back in 2010.
They were chosen after winning a public tender, beating off competition from a company owned by the Tumas Group and another one owned by a consortium of businesses which had originally owned the casino.
Cardona has defended his decision to extend the concession to the same company by arguing that it has invested €17 million into it, which is more than what the contract had obliged to invest and which was invested ahead of the specified timeframes.
He added that he was under no obligation to present the motion to Parliament in the first place as the land in question isn’t owned by the central government or the Lands Authority.
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi then submitted a parliamentary question asking Cardona why he hadn’t discussed the motion with Cabinet and the PL parliamentary group before presenting it in Parliament.
In his response, Cardona didn’t deny this allegation, simply stating that he had received legal advice from the Attorney General before presenting the motion and that the motion was unanimously approved by Parliament.
Cover photo: PL deputy leaders Chris Fearne (second from right) and Chris Cardona (right) with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle at a PL mass meeting