Gafà approved as new police chief

Updated 04:20 PM
Angelo Gafa
Miguela Xuereb

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.

Appointment ‘sent a clear message,’ Minister maintains

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.

  • Gafà stated that he never tolerated political interference in his work, and pledged to lead by example on the issue.
  • Gafà suggested that the reason FIAU reports flagging potential political corruption were not followed up is that while the FIAU acts on intelligence, the police needed evidence.  But he also emphasised the need to strengthen the Economic Crimes Unit, which is a work in progress.
  • The police should be more open about investigations concerning “persons of stature,” and improve their communication with the public and with the media.
  • Strengthening the Cyber Crime Unit is a secondary priority, as existed police structures are not particularly suitable to deal with online crime.
  • The police need a change of culture which cannot come overnight. Certain structures within the police force need to be dismantled, and the police force needed to become more meritocratic.
  • As the CEO of the Police Force, Gafà had informed the police commissioner about what needed to be done to address potential abuses – such as the overtime racket involving traffic police. However, this was not followed up.
  • Gafà emphasises the importance of education, recounting having to read practically illegible reports by police officers.
15:39 And with this, the committee's meeting draws to a close, around 20 minutes before the start of Parliament's plenary session.
John Paul Cardona
15:39 Agius Decelis congratulates Gafà on behalf of the committee, auguring that all the necessary reforms take place at the police force.
John Paul Cardona
15:38 Gafà is thus brought back in and given the good news.
John Paul Cardona
15:37 His wait outside of the committee room lasts roughly a minute, as all four government MPs present immediately vote to confirm him.
John Paul Cardona
15:36 With the grilling now over, Gafà is dismissed so that MPs may vote on his nomination.
John Paul Cardona
15:35 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:35 Agius Decelis questions what issues haven't been covered by the MPs' questions, suggesting the grilling is coming to an end.
John Paul Cardona
15:33 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:31 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.

"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."
John Paul Cardona
15:30 Though education was not everything, it was essential, Gafà states.
John Paul Cardona
15:29 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:27 Police officers, he says, should start in a general position before specialising – save exceptions for recruits qualified in certain key areas.

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.
John Paul Cardona
15:26 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:25 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:20 Gafà notes that a lot of hate speech took place online, which created a problem for a police force which worked according to districts.

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.
John Paul Cardona
15:20 Bartolo asks about cyber bullying and hate crimes – including racism.
John Paul Cardona
15:18 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:16 But the police force needed to play its part and improve at delivering information, thus reducing the need for journalists to seek sources.
John Paul Cardona
15:15 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:14 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:13 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:11 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:10 Gafà also notes that a process to acquire bodycams – which, he points out, would increase accountability. is ongoing.
John Paul Cardona
15:09 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:08 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:07 He states that he is never completely happy with police working conditions, though he does argue the situation has improved.
John Paul Cardona
15:05 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.

This provided police officers with more time they could spend with their families, but the police continue to be offered opportunities for overtime.
John Paul Cardona
15:04 Agius Decelis asks Gafà whether he is satisfied with police's working conditions.
John Paul Cardona
15:03 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:02 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.
John Paul Cardona
15:01 Government whip Glenn Bedingfield asks whether Gafà felt he should assume responsibility for the traffic police racket, since it happened while he was CEO.
John Paul Cardona
14:59 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:56 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.

Such roles should be covered by civilians, he says, allowing the police officers involved to be better used elsewhere.
John Paul Cardona
14:54 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:54 He highlights the alleged overtime racket which has seen many traffic police arraigned, stating that this should have been avoided.
John Paul Cardona
14:51 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:49 Gafà argues that the police should be more open about investigations concerning "persons of stature."

Police officers shouldn't feel upset by media scrutiny on such matters: "it's their (the persons of stature) problem, not ours."
John Paul Cardona
14:48 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."
John Paul Cardona
14:47 But Gafà starts by addressing Mizzi's account of the police investigating claims he had made in Parliament.
John Paul Cardona
14:44 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:42 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:41 He highlights the importance of the Attorney General's Office taking up responsibility for prosecution, thus reducing the time police officers spent in court.
John Paul Cardona
14:40 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."
John Paul Cardona
14:39 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:36 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:35 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:34 Bartolo now highlights that Malta risks grey-listing, if not black-listing, from the Council of Europe's anti-money laundering body Moneyval.
John Paul Cardona
14:32 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:32 Gafà states that while the FIAU based its findings on intelligence, this was not worth anything in court: evidence was needed.
John Paul Cardona
14:31 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:30 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:29 Gafà takes long pauses on a couple of occasions as he seeks to avoid mis-speaking.
John Paul Cardona
14:29 A question by Agius Decelis draws Gafà to comment on financial investigations.
John Paul Cardona
14:26 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."
John Paul Cardona
14:26 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:23 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:22 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:20 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:18 Bartolo asks Gafà whether he had the necessary qualities to resist any political pressure or interference.
John Paul Cardona
14:18 But MPs are free to ask follow-up questions, and Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo goes first.
John Paul Cardona
14:17 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:15 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:14 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.

The rate still remained beneath the EU average, however, and trust fell to 59% in 2019.
John Paul Cardona
14:12 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.

He points out that reports for certain crimes that often went unreported, such as domestic violence, went up.
John Paul Cardona
14:12 Gafà highlights that reported crime fell by 10% over the past 3 years.
John Paul Cardona
14:10 The police could only prevent crime if people viewed them as partners, Gafà said, before citing his role in launching community policing.
John Paul Cardona
14:09 He highlights that the police force's main aim is not to catch criminals, but to prevent crime in the first place.
John Paul Cardona
14:08 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:06 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:06 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:05 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.
John Paul Cardona
14:04 As expected, Nationalist Party MPs have boycotted the procedures.
John Paul Cardona