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|Commissioner of Laws|
March 24, 2013
|Member of the Parliament of Malta|
March 12, 2008 – March 13, 2013
March 9, 1974 |
|Political party||Nationalist Party|
|Alma mater||University of Malta (Dr.)|
Franco Debono (born 9 March 1974) is the current Commissioner of Laws of Malta, appointed by the Labour-led administration of Joseph Muscat on 24 March 2013. Debono is a criminal defence lawyer. From 2008 until 2013 served one term as Member of Parliament for the Nationalist Party. During his stay in parliament, Debono became known for frequently rebelling against the Cabinet led by Lawrence Gonzi, which Debono considered an "evil clique" and held responsible for suffocating meritocracy. Debono's opposition was especially noteworthy, because said Cabinet was formed by the Nationalist Party - the same party in whose name Debono contested the previous elections.
According to himself, he hails from a "staunch Nationalist family" and was interested in politics from a very young age onwards. He went to school at St Aloysius' College in Birkirkara. In 1999 he received a Doctorate of Laws from the University of Malta for his thesis called The constitutional implications of party organization and party finance.
Debono first ran for office in 1998, contesting the fifth electoral district. He failed to win a parliamentary seat, ending up with just 467 votes. In 2003 Debono was once again on the ballot in the fifth district, this time gaining 1130 votes. It was once again not enough to gain the seat. Debono was elected in parliament with the Nationalist Party from the fifth district in 2008 when he gained 2065 votes. Newspaper Malta Today described Debono's election as a surprise win. Even more so, because Debono's election meant longstanding member of parliament Louis Galea who was minister of education and Helen Damato who was parliamentary secretary for the elderly became unseated.
In late 2009, problems between Debono and the Nationalist Party leadership arose. According to Debono, who missed two votes in parliament, Malta was in desperate need of law reform. At the time, he still considered himself a proud member of the Nationalist Party, even though he toyed with switching his allegiance to Labour.
In November 2011, Debono started a campaign to split the Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs into two separate departments. In early 2012, Gonzi gave in to Debono's demand and took advantage of a cabinet reshuffle to separate the justice and home affairs portfolios from one another. Debono applauded the split, but nevertheless criticized the reshuffle as a whole, saying Gonzi had only promoted some of his secretaries (which Debono dubbed "the ruling clique") to ministerial posts.
In early January 2012, Debono was now so disgruntled with the current state of affairs within the PN, that he stated "I'll support anyone but Gonzi." Later that month, Debono once again hinted he was going to vote in line with Labour in one of their no confidence-motions, but abstained in the end, ensuring the motion was defeated with the casting vote of the speaker. Later on that year, he called Lawrence Gonzi "Malta's Hitler" on his blog, but removed the comments shortly afterwards.
In May 2012, Debono voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in Minister for Home and Parliamentary Affairs Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, which subsequently passed. This deed forced Bonnici to resign. Debono supported the motion, because he felt Bonnici failed in bringing about reforms.
Debono contributed in toppling the Gonzi-led administration in a budget vote on 10 December 2012. The MP claimed he would vote against the government if Austin Gatt was not relinquished from his post. When Gonzi subsequently refused to give in to the demand, Debono cast his vote against the budget. Along with all the votes from Labour, the vote failed and new elections had to be called. "I am proud to have distanced myself from Austin Gatt's GonziPN," Debono declared afterwards.
After the fall of the government, but prior to the 2013 elections, Debono pledged to "remain a thorn in GonziPN's side" till the end of his own parliamentary career. After the election date had already been set, Debono attacked the PN on claims it is corrupt and for polluting the environment. Outgoing prime minister Gonzi replied that Debono had now become "irrelevant."
Debono also attempted to appear in a scheduled debate in Xarabank on 14 December 14 between the deputy leaders of the PN and the PL. Debono persuaded the PL to send him instead of actual PL-deputy leader Angelo Farrugia. Broadcaster PBS, however, cancelled the debate.
Relationship with the press
During his stay in politics, Debono enjoyed a troubled relationship with the press, accusing The Times of taking part in a "character assassination" aimed at him. He furthermore claimed in 2012 that the "Prime Minister is viciously attacking me and others from behind paper screens like Ms Caruana Galizia's blog." Caruana Galizia considers Debono a "psycho" and claims to support several campaigns intended to attack Debono.
After the dissolution of parliament, Debono claimed he was "fed up with politics" and decided not to contest the general elections again, although for a time Debono toyed with the possibility of setting up a new party to push for democratic reform.
When the results of the 2013 elections came in, and it became clear that Labour had won the elections, a cheerful Debono was carried around on the shoulders of Labour Party supporters.
A few weeks after that, the newly installed Labour administration handed Debono an appointment in the new administration. One of Debono's tasks would be assuming the role of Commissioner of Laws. Overseeing constitutional reform is however one of the most important aspects of this job. According to Labour MP Owen Bonnici, the post would also see the former member of parliament working to remove conflicting, unconstitutional and human rights-breaching laws. In 2014, the government expanded his role by appointing him as chairman of the Law Commission. In addition, Debono was hired as a consultant to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on the subject of justice reform.
In late 2015 and early 2016, Debono also became a critic of the Labour administration. The former Member of Parliament felt that the government's policies were "not what people had voted for". Debono said he was disappointed with Muscat for appointing a magistrate who allegedly breached the constitution.
In July 2016, Debono went on record claiming that he would be willing to re-enter Parliament as a Member of Parliament for Labour. Debono noted that he might follow up on efforts of Labour's supporters - who he called "soldiers of steel" - to get the former Nationalist to join the Labour Party in order to stand for elections. Debono claims his beliefs are in line with Labour's. Even so, Debono announced in May 2017 that he would not seek a return to parliament come the 2017 elections.
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