Update (2): Effective action against corruption in the government and police needed – GRECO

Updated with recommendations regarding law enforcement agencies

In a report published Wednesday morning by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) it was stated that effective action against corruption in the Government of Malta and the police are needed. GRECO raises questions about the effectiveness of the framework in place in Malta to prevent corruption amongst persons with top executive functions (ministers and other senior government officials) and the Maltese Police Force.

Impressive on paper

GRECO notes that Malta has on paper an impressive arsenal of public institutions involved in checks and balances but their effectiveness is being questioned in recent years due to a wave of controversies concerning the integrity of senior government officials in relation to the use of state resources and privatisations, tenders, energy supply, the sale of land, the award of contracts and public positions.

No action taken

GRECO highlights that, to date, there has been no visible disciplinary or criminal justice response to a number of these allegations, even when some of them have been confirmed by subsequent audits, for instance, of the National Audit Office. The most sophisticated mechanisms and the many specialist and collegial supervisory bodies are of little use if they are themselves unaccountable and/or ineffective.

Furthermore GRECO underlines that the country lacks an overall strategy, a coherent risk-based approach, when it comes to integrity standards for government officials and a system of sanctions. GRECO calls for stricter rules and their enforcement on ancillary business and other activities of top officials, conflicts of interest and declarations of assets.

The report also states that important reforms are needed to increase the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond to allegations involving senior officials. Certain institutions, such as the Permanent Commission against Corruption, have not produced concrete results after 30 years of existence.

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, established in 2018 to enforce integrity standards, deserves a better fate.

GRECO lists desirable improvements

GRECO welcomes the appointment in 2017 of a Chief Executive Officer to modernise human resources management in the Maltese Police Force and to implement policies aimed at preserving trust in the corps. GRECO’s report lists a number of desirable improvements, including more robust and up-dated ethical standards, a clear merit-based approach for career decisions and promotions, the introduction of a communication policy (to develop a culture of accountability, amongst other objectives) and a stronger training system. The Independent Police Complaints Board needs to be strengthened and a policy on reporting and disclosures of misbehaviour by the police must be developed, which would include protective measures for whistle-blowers.

“This report is a call for action: I look forward to the swift implementation of GRECO recommendations by the Maltese authorities” said GRECO’s President Marin Mrčela.

The implementation of the 23 recommendations addressed to Malta will be assessed by GRECO in the beginning of 2021 through its specific compliance procedure.

Recommendations regarding top officials in government

The following  are some of the recommendations to Malta Regarding central governments (top executive functions)

1.       Limit number of persons of trust

2.       That those who would perform top executive functions be required to comply with the highest standards of integrity, including as regards rules of conduct, conflicts of interest, declaratory obligations, and supervision by the Commissioner for standards in public life.

3.       That the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act of 2008 be independently analysed and exceptions limited

4.       Increase the capacity, authority and public accountability of State institutions entrusted with regulatory and control functions in relation to the management of public resources

5.       Declaration of assets and interest should be extended to persons entrusted with top executive functions, including persons of trust who are associated with a minister’s decision-making.

6.       The criminal investigation and prosecution system in relation to persons entrusted with top executive functions be reformed along the lines identified by the Venice Commission in its assessment from December 2018. The launching of an inquest or investigation can be based on a reasonable suspicion and does not require that evidence is readily submitted to them.

7.       Legislation should allow the use of special investigative techniques (such as wiretaps and other similar measures) in the investigation of corruption offences, empowering the judicial authority to authorise their use, and making the evidence obtained thereby admissible in court, while respecting the case law of the European Court of Human.

Recommendations regarding law enforcement agencies

1.       A dedicated anti-corruption strategy should be adopted and implemented for the Maltese Police Force, based on proper risk assessments, so as to promote a culture of integrity and to restore public trust in the Force through a robust set of rules, effective compliance, merit-based career systems, sufficient operational independence and political neutrality, as well as increased awareness and gender balance at all levels.

2.       To foster the mechanism for the reporting of suspicions of corruption and other malpractice within the Maltese Police Force and to ensure adequate protection measures are in place for members of the Force when they report such instances.

3.       The Maltese Police Force should establish a policy to communicate at regular interval its work including on steps taken with regard to concrete cases which are of particular interest to the public or to victims of crime and closely related persons.

4.       The standards of conduct and ethics applicable to law enforcement officers be consolidated and updated in respect of gifts, conflicts of interest, third party relations and other topical subject-matters.

5.       Strengthening the training programmes and awareness raising measures on integrity and professional ethics (covering conflicts of interest and other corruption prevention-related matters) for law enforcement bodies.

6.       That objective, fair and transparent criteria, based on merit and adequate open competitions, be clearly provided for, and effectively used for all recruitments and promotions in the Maltese Police Force.

7.       The Independent Police Complaints Board be properly equipped, resourced and given adequate guarantees of independence for it to become an effective supervisory mechanism entirely dedicated to such tasks.

You can read the full report here.