01 February 2006

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Business Today

GRTU turmoil persists as three council members resign

James Debono

The Chamber for Small and Medium Enterprises- GRTU is still in disarray despite President Paul Abela’s last ditch attempt to find a solution to the rift that developed between council members over the appointment of the organisation’s top officials.
Abela had proposed that any council member wanting to serve as vice president should be appointed in that role.
But this proposal was described as “ridiculous” by GRTU council member Hubert Agius who resigned from his role as vice president after disagreeing with the method used to elect the GRTU’s seven officials.
“Just imagine how ridiculous it would be if the Prime Minister where to appoint all 35 MPs on the government bench as his Ministers in order to please everyone,” Hubert Agius told Business Today yesterday.
Speaking to the Times on Monday, President Paul Abela quashed rumours that the GRTU was facing internal strife.
But speaking to Business Today on Tuesday, GRTU Director General Vince Farrugia acknowledged that “at this stage council members are still divided.”
Farrugia added that until a solution is found, the council will not be meeting, and the President and the Director General will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the GRTU.
Farrugia had originally threatened to suspend himself if a solution is not found to the current crisis.
But yesterday Farrugia stood back from his threat after receiving appeals from all quarters to continue serving the GRTU.
Council members Hubert Agius, Reuben Buttigieg and Sergio Camilleri have rejected President Paul Abela’s solution and are insisting that only those six council members who polled the highest number of votes in the GRTU’s election should be elected as the union’s six vice presidents. Apart from GRTU President Paul Abela who got the second highest amount of votes, the six most voted members on the GRTU’s present council are Philip Fenech, Marcelle Mizzi, Hubert Agius, Mario Debono, Sergio Camilleri and new-comer Grace Borg.
Yet from those six who got the highest number of votes only three were elected vice presidents. These were Philip Fenech, Mario Debono and Hubert Agius.
Apart from Philip Fenech and Hubert Agius, all the GRTU’s new vice presidents were included in a block vote sent by SMS to GRTU members before the election.
Sources have interpreted the block vote as an attempt to purge the GRTU from those elements deemed too critical of the present government.
While some of the most voted council members were excluded, council members who got much less votes were appointed vice presidents.
These included bottom placed Charles Busuttil and Joe Tabone.
The latter is now facing a motion presented by the association representing M’Scala shop owners calling for his expulsion from the GRTU. Tabone stands accused of defying the GRTU’s stand against the relocation of fish-farms to M’Scala when he voted in favour of the project in his capacity as member of MEPA’s board.
Following Agius’ resignation from the post of vice president and council member on Thursday, Sergio Camilleri and Reuben Buttigieg have also tendered their resignation as executive council members.
Although the council has not accepted their resignation, the three GRTU council members have made it clear that they disagree with the President’s latest proposal.
Buttigieg is also insisting that the President’s latest proposal would require an extraordinary meeting of GRTU members to change the organisation’s statute.
According to the three council members, in the past, the top officials of the organisation were always elected on the basis of who got most votes from members.
“The appointment of the six most voted GRTU officials is the most democratic solution,” Agius told Business Today.
Council member Sergio Camilleri said he was one of the recipients of the SMS calling on GRTU members to vote for a list of names, which excluded him and other GRTU officials.
Camilleri expressed his concern that the persons behind the block vote had access to the full list of GRTU members.
Despite being elected one of the GRTU’s vice presidents Hubert Agius had offered his resignation to show his disapproval at the way other council members had been excluded.
Yet the final straw leading to Hubert Agius’ resignation was the election of Joe Tabone as one of the GRTU’s vice presidents.
M’Scala shop owners led by GRTU council member Reuben Buttigieg are threatening to resign en masse from the organisation.
Addressing a press conference organised by the Association representing M’Scala shop owners, Buttigieg said that shop owners had no trust in Tabone as he had defied the GRTU’s and the M’Scala shop owners stand by voting in favour of the Sant Antnin recycling plant and the relocation of fish farms in M’Scala. The GRTU has since appealed against these decisions.
“Tabone, as a GRTU official is appealing against a decision of which he was an accomplice,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg insisted that through his vote Tabone defied the GRTU’s statute, which gives the council the right to expel any member of the council who acts against the best interest of the GRTU.
Buttigieg also claimed that in the recent GRTU’s elections for the council those who have had stood up to defend businesses hailing from the south of Malta were not included in a block vote sent by SMS to GRTU members.
“It is a shame that these methods were used,” Buttigieg said.
GRTU Director General Vince Farrugia told Business Today that as the representative of the commercial sector on the MEPA board, Tabone was technically the GRTU’s nominee on the same board.
“By voting against the GRTU’s position, he took a big risk. Now he should face the music. The least thing he could have done was to walk out of the MEPA board meeting due to a conflict of interest.”
Farrugia said that the motion calling for Tabone’s expulsion should be discussed in the GRTU’s council.


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