The next police commissioner should be someone who enjoyed the trust of everyone, including the opposition, Prime Minister Robert Abela said this afternoon.
Abela was speaking during parliamentary debate on proposed amendments to the Police Act reforming the way the police commissioner is selected, and insisted that the government would not push forward a puppet candidate as the opposition was claiming.
“I believe in appointing a police commissioner that will make us proud by doing their duty; a police commissioner that will be allowed to work in a neutral and independent manner,” Abela said.
Abela said that the reforms would be a step forward on good governance, and said that he could not deny that the criticism that Malta has had too many police commissioners in seven years of Labour government was justified in part. But he emphasised that the government inherited the system from a PN government.
Opposition ‘should ask tough questions’
The proposed system would see candidates screened by the Public Service Commission, which would shortlist two candidates. The Cabinet would then pick the top candidate, who would be grilled by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee.
The opposition insists that the system would effectively change nothing, arguing that it would still ultimately see the Prime Minister appoint whoever he chooses, and is instead proposing appointing a police chief through a two-thirds parliamentary vote.
But Abela defended the system, stressing that the PSC was a constitutional body made up of two government appointees, two members appointed by the opposition and a chairman enjoying the trust of both sides. Consequently, he observed, Cabinet could not choose someone who failed their test.
He also emphasised that the Public Appointments Committee has so far proven to work well, and that he expected opposition MPs to step up to the task.
“This would be the time to ask tough questions; it would be useless to complain afterwards,” the PM said. Though he insisted that the opposition should not seek to “destroy” candidates, he added that if it did have evidence suggesting that the candidate was unfit for purpose, it should press the matter.
“But ultimately, if both sides are satisfied that the candidate meets the requirements, we must pull the same rope,” he said.
PM pledges full support, no interference
Abela invited whoever was interested in applying for the post to start by “examining their own conscience” to determine whether they are fit for the task, adding that the Police Commissioner would have a large burden to carry.
He also pledged that the government would provide its full support to the eventual police chief, but also emphasised that the government would not interfere in their work.
“But the government will expect one thing: that they will carry out their duties properly, without fear or favour,” Abela maintained.
“Seriousness and discipline will be required, as is respect. And respect will be earned through their actions.”