19th July 2018, 20:23
Three days after a court of appeal ruled an amendment to the Housing Act unconstitutional, a political row has sparked off, with the GSD Opposition suggesting the Government misinformed Parliament, and Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon saying this is yet another failure of the barristocracy in our political system.
The Government however has defended its decision, accusing the GSD of not having done any homework before deciding how to vote in Parliament.
In Monday’s judgment, the Court of Appeal ruled that a 2013 amendment to the Housing Act was unconstitutional, and expressed concern that the law could potentially benefit a very small group of people, one of whom was Housing Minister Paul Balban.
In a statement, the Opposition party says it supported that change in law based on the Chief Minister’s explanations, but says it transpires that these were “inaccurate, fell short of clarification” and were “lacking in sufficient debate”. The GSD says it recognises that the then Minister for Housing, Paul Balban, “appears properly not to have sought to take the benefit” of the rental measures; but questions why the Government thought it was wise to proceed with the law when it could expose itself to such criticism. It claims the matters are about “good government” and how the Government should exercise its powers.
Marlene Hassan Nahon says this is a serious issue which cannot be dismissed. She says if the Government’s real intentions were buried once again under a heap of legal jargon, then it is either a case of incompetence or dishonesty. She says the fact that Minister Balban chose to pay the higher rates despite having sought the amendment before becoming a minister hardly remedies the collaries of this issue, and the public cannot rely on voluntary acts of goodwill to stop bad practices from happening. Ms Hassan Nahon also says this legislation slipped by under the nose of the GSD Opposition, four of which were reputed lawyers and QCs.
The Government has replied suggesting that the seven GSD MPs at the time cost 300 thousand pounds a year, and appear to not bother working out which laws they are going to vote for. It also points out that the effect of the law was also set out in the judgement of Mrs Justice Rammage Prescott last year, and the GSD said nothing at the time. It says it will be appealing the Court of Appeal’s decision, something that tenants in Francis Flats have encouraged them to do.
The Chief Minister says he believes his Government did the right thing to legislate to protect the tenants of Francis Flats from a three to four hundred percent increase proposed by landlords. He says the GSD would have obviously sided with the Landlords, and points out that the GSD Leader, Keith Azopardi, and Damon Bossino, who was an Opposition MP at the time of the legislation, both work for the law firm the Government has instructed in this case.