Tista' taqra bil- Malti.
Acknowledging a police force going through a challenging time, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said that he wished to make the police force respectable once more as parliament started debating a proposed reform in the way Malta’s Police Commissioner is selected.
The debate comes as the force is wracked by allegations of overtime fraud at the Traffic Section, and Camilleri said that recent developments made the need for change very much evident. But he argued that the need for change has existed for a long time, and that this change could not happen overnight.
Camilleri said that the proposed reform marked “a historic day” as government was foregoing its power to appoint a chief of police directly, but his opposition counterpart Beppe Fenech Adami insisted that the reform brought no material change.
The reform comes through a proposed amendment to the Police Act, which, Camilleri emphasised, followed the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. He said that it went even further than that, as it removed the Prime Minister’s right to veto candidates put forward by the Public Service Commission.
A Venice Commission spokesman did confirm to Newsbook, however, that while there had been informal discussions, the government did not formally ask for an opinion on its proposals.
PSC shortlists, but Cabinet chooses nominee
According to the propsosed bill, the PSC would issue a public call and shortlist the two most suitable candidates. But it would then be up to Cabinet to pick the most suitable candidate between the two.
The candidate would then be scrutinised by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee, and can be appointed to the post if the committee advises in their favour.
But Fenech Adami noted that the majority of the PSC’s members were appointed by the government, and that government MPs enjoyed a majority in the parliamentary committee. He argued that this, in addition to Cabinet’s choice of the most suitable member, meant that nothing effectively changed.
However, Minister Carmelo Abela, who was Home Affairs Minister between 2014 and 2017, later challenged Fenech Adami’s claim on the PSC, stating that all five members had been appointed with the backing of the opposition.
The opposition has been calling for the Police Commissioner to be chosen by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, but the minister insisted that this was unworkable as it could create a deadlock, leaving the country without a chief of police for an extended period of time. He also said that he disagreed with this method as it still left the choice of commissioner entirely in politicians’ hands.
He also noted that prior to the 2017 election, the opposition had been in favour of allowing such deadlocks to eventually be broken by a simple majority, only to change its mind since. He insisted that this was due to political considerations, as the party no longer expected to return to government any time soon.
PN MP Jason Azzopardi, however, later challenged the government to present its own and the opposition’s proposal to the Venice Commission, to determine which one was deemed most suitable.
Fact stranger than fiction, Fenech Adami insists
In his own address, Fenech Adami said that Malta was facing a surreal situation when it came to the police force, with six police commissioners and four home affairs ministers in seven years of Labour government.
“Not even Netflix series have the intrigues we hear about now,” he said.
The MP emphasised that while the government was acknowledging problems now, it was denying them only two months ago, when regular protests calling for justice took place in Malta.
“You were telling us that we’re exaggerating, that we’re inventing things, that we’re harming the police’s reputation,” Fenech Adami maintained.
The government, he said, intentionally allowed institutions to collapse, giving comfort to criminals. He specifically mentioned former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi, stating that their decision to open an account in Panama was textbook money laundering.
The police’s failure to act on this and related crimes, he insisted, ultimately led to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Referring to the Traffic Section scandal, Fenech Adami insisted that former Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia could not wash his hands over the matter because he wasn’t directly involved. He also emphasised that the matter would have been swept under the rug were it not for a whistle-blower.