Angelo Gafà will be Malta’s next police chief after MPs within the Public Appointments Committee voted to approve him.
All four committee MP present – committee chairman Anthony Agius Decelis, Evarist Bartolo, Glenn Bedingfield and Joe Mizzi – backed Gafà after a grilling that lasted around 100 minutes. Opposition MPs stuck to the boycott announced by the Nationalist Party.
Gafà was the first police chief to be chosen by the government through the new process approved earlier this year. But the PN chose to boycott the grilling after deeming the process to be a sham, since it still effectively left the choice of police chief in the government’s hands.
In a statement released in the midst of the grilling, the PN reiterated that it would not participate in a ‘farcical’ process so as not to lend legitimacy to it.
In a statement, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri welcomed the first appointment of a police commissioner through the new system adopted earlier this year, stating that this improvement had been recognised by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
“This is one of the main changes that our country has implemented in the first few months of the year to send a clear message that its politicians were willing to forego powers that had always been exclusively theirs,” he said.
And with this, the committee's meeting draws to a close, around 20 minutes before the start of Parliament's plenary session.
Agius Decelis congratulates Gafà on behalf of the committee, auguring that all the necessary reforms take place at the police force.
Gafà is thus brought back in and given the good news.
His wait outside of the committee room lasts roughly a minute, as all four government MPs present immediately vote to confirm him.
With the grilling now over, Gafà is dismissed so that MPs may vote on his nomination.
Gafà thus delivers his closing remarks, pledging to work for a culture change that cannot happen overnight, as well as a pledge to put the police force's clients at the centre.
Agius Decelis questions what issues haven't been covered by the MPs' questions, suggesting the grilling is coming to an end.
Gafà flags a lack of leadership skills within the police force. He notes that among the most senior officers, only one actually applied for the post of commissioner he has been nominated for.
"And you're stuck with these officers for 25 years or more, as the best ones often leave for better posts in the private sector."
He points out that police officers need to file reports on their investigations, and that he often came across incoherent reports with little to no punctuation.
Though education was not everything, it was essential, Gafà states.
Bedingfield asks on recruitment, and Gafà notes that he had disagreed with the lowering of educational qualifications required to join the force. For the last call, which ended last week, the requirements were increased again.
Those who wish to specialise must prove that they are motivated to work in the field they seek, Gafà says, including through online self-assessment which would not cost the police force a single cent.
Police officers, he says, should start in a general position before specialising – save exceptions for recruits qualified in certain key areas.
Agius Decelis asks whether there would be clear criteria on how police officers would be chosen for promotion, but Gafà states that this would be part of the strategy he pledged to publish.
Gafà argues for the need to improve meritocracy within the police force. Police officers' abilities should be better assessed to assign the best people to each task.
He states that there was the need for a specialised unit to deal with hate crimes. The Cyber Crime Unit is also scheduled to be strengthened, Gafa states, giving it the second-highest priority after Economic Crimes.
Gafà notes that a lot of hate speech took place online, which created a problem for a police force which worked according to districts.
Bartolo asks about cyber bullying and hate crimes – including racism.
Gafà agress that more press briefings should be needed, highlighting that as police commissioner, he understood that he would be expected to give some of them.
But the police force needed to play its part and improve at delivering information, thus reducing the need for journalists to seek sources.
Gafà insists that this was wrong, on multiple levels. As a police officer, he says, he never leaked information, and as commissioner, he would seek to put an end to such leaks.
As a former Labour Party journalist, Bedingfield highlights that obtaining information from police was a frustrating process. Whenever information was needed, he says, it was always far easier to obtain unofficially through sources.
The police's call for tender seeks bodycams which switch on automatically whenever weapons – lethal or otherwise – are deployed. Gafà points out that when bodycams could be switched off, they were generally switched off during the most crucial moments.
He acknowledges that police officers were resisting the introduction of bodycams, but argues that bodycams also worked in their favour, as allegations of misconduct tended to fall once there was clear evidence of what had happened.
Gafà also notes that a process to acquire bodycams – which, he points out, would increase accountability. is ongoing.
Gafà also suggests that the police uniform may be updated, in part to adapt it to Malta's climate. But it could also help to bring the force closer to the people.
He moves on to non-financial aspects, noting how many police stations were not built for this purpose. He also reveals that many were leased years ago under protected leases, which are increasingly being challenged and struck down in court.
He states that he is never completely happy with police working conditions, though he does argue the situation has improved.
This provided police officers with more time they could spend with their families, but the police continue to be offered opportunities for overtime.
Gafà notes that the first thing that came to mind was financial considerations. He recounts The police used to work 46 hours a week and get paid for 40, until a sectoral agreement reduced their work week to 40 hours.
Agius Decelis asks Gafà whether he is satisfied with police's working conditions.
Back then, he adds, the final decision rested with the commissioner, who did not take up the recommendations. But if he is made commissioner, the recommendations will be among the first things that he will implement.
Gafà points out that he had drawn the police commissioner's attention to abuses that may have taken place – not necessarily just within the traffic section – and issued recommendations.
Government whip Glenn Bedingfield asks whether Gafà felt he should assume responsibility for the traffic police racket, since it happened while he was CEO.
Asked by Agius Decelis on timeframes, Gafà states that these are proposals he has already made. He argues that the police need a change in culture, but this needs to evolve incrementally.
Such roles should be covered by civilians, he says, allowing the police officers involved to be better used elsewhere.
Gafà questions the "waste" of police officers having to cover administrative duties. He notes that there are police officers – who have various powers, including arrest – who end up never using them, as they are stuck cooking in the police canteen or issuing police conduct certificates.
Gafà notes that he has long called for centralisation within the police. Institutions and structures have been growing within the force, and these need to be dismantled, he maintains.
He highlights the alleged overtime racket which has seen many traffic police arraigned, stating that this should have been avoided.
He notes that a balance should be sought between what can be reported and what cannot. But he later adds that police communication was crucial to engender trust.
Police officers shouldn't feel upset by media scrutiny on such matters: "it's their (the persons of stature) problem, not ours."
Gafà argues that the police should be more open about investigations concerning "persons of stature."
He insists that the police should investigate everything at the first hint of a crime being committed. "We should not wait for politicians to tell us to investigate."
But Gafà starts by addressing Mizzi's account of the police investigating claims he had made in Parliament.
Joe Mizzi's first question takes minutes, through preambles, opinions, personal accounts. It deals with a number of issues, including the police's internal affairs unit – which looks into possible police misconduct.
As an inspector dealing with economic crimes, he adds, he regularly returned from Court after 3pm, having little time left to grab a quick lunch and continue his investigations.
He highlights the importance of the Attorney General's Office taking up responsibility for prosecution, thus reducing the time police officers spent in court.
Gafà notes that he always saw financial crimes as a jigsaw puzzle: "the pieces are all there, but it is up to your creativity to solve it."
Gafà also points out that Europol can provide a helping hand. Malta, he adds, should not be proud and insist it can handle matters on its own.
He highlights the need for civilians – non-police officers who hold specialised qualifications – to help the police force investigate financial crimes. Recruitment has started and is ongoing.
Gafà states that the police were only part of a greater chain when it came to tackling money laundering, and states that it had to deal with a number of cases because there were lack of proper controls elsewhere.
Bartolo now highlights that Malta risks grey-listing, if not black-listing, from the Council of Europe's anti-money laundering body Moneyval.
He points out that organised crime knew no borders, but adds that the Economic Crimes Unit's resources were increasing. From 4 investigators dealing with money laundering, the number will reach 12 by September.
Gafà states that while the FIAU based its findings on intelligence, this was not worth anything in court: evidence was needed.
He points out that as the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit was strengthened, the number of reports making it to the Economic Crimes Unit's desk increased.
After the first long pause, he notes that as someone who spent 9 years investigating financial crimes, he could understand the complexity of certain cases.
Gafà takes long pauses on a couple of occasions as he seeks to avoid mis-speaking.
A question by Agius Decelis draws Gafà to comment on financial investigations.
Bartolo follows up his first question by asking on the strength of personal ties in Malta. Gafà insists he would lead by example: "If I maintain no such ties myself, I expect others to follow suit."
He pledges to work on a strategy that would be made public, to ensure that the police force can be held accountable for their actions.
Gafà argues that one of the police force's failings is that a lot of such policies were unwritten. Many officers have long argued for a renewal of the police force, he says, but they still remained in their own comfort zones.
He adds that in all his years in the police force, no politician 'has dared to knock on my door.' He certainly would not tolerate such interference now, he maintains.
Gafà states that in his lectures at the police academy,he sought to instil such a message to his students, arguing that if officers showed that they were not willing to submit to political influence, no one would knock at their door.
Bartolo asks Gafà whether he had the necessary qualities to resist any political pressure or interference.
But MPs are free to ask follow-up questions, and Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo goes first.
In preparation for the grilling, Gafà had answered a number of questions in writing. These should be up on parliament's website parlament.mt shortly.
Gafà admits that a lot of the criticism the police received was made objectively. But he insists that before increasing public trust, there was the need to boost the morale of demoralised officers.
The rate still remained beneath the EU average, however, and trust fell to 59% in 2019.
He notes that in the past, surveys showed that over 90% had faith in the police force. This fell to a low of 53% in 2017, before increasing to 68% in 2018 – the highest increase in the EU, Gafà points out.
He points out that reports for certain crimes that often went unreported, such as domestic violence, went up.
He notes that people may feel that the drop in reported crime may be due to a loss of faith in the police force, but disputes this.
Gafà highlights that reported crime fell by 10% over the past 3 years.
The police could only prevent crime if people viewed them as partners, Gafà said, before citing his role in launching community policing.
He highlights that the police force's main aim is not to catch criminals, but to prevent crime in the first place.
Gafà opens with a short bio, noting that he spent around a year and a half in the Armed Forces of Malta before joining the police force in 2003.
The procedure can be watched live on Parliament TV. However, since a plenary session is scheduled at 4pm, it might be cut unceremoniously short if it runs late. In that case, it will still air on Parliament's website parlament.mt.
Agius Decelis defends the procedure leading to Gafà's selection, stating that "no one criticised it," not even the Venice Commission. Of course, that does omit the PN.
Committee chairman Anthony Agius Decelis points out that four committee members were required for a quorum. This quorum is met through government's four MEPs.
As expected, Nationalist Party MPs have boycotted the procedures.