Rule of law prejudiced when corruption becomes a way of life – Ombudsman

Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The rule of law would be seriously prejudiced when corruption becomes a way of life, the Parliamentary Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud said in his annual report for the year 2019.

The Office of the Ombudsman presented its report to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anglu Farrugia.

In its annual report, the Ombudsman described 2019 as “a year of turmoil” which brought about drastic change in civil society, the public administration and the government. In his introduction Mifsud said that in 2019 civil society became more “organised, vociferous and proactive”, leading to the downfall in disgrace of an administration that enjoyed the backing of a sizeable majority of the electorate.

In November 2019, both disgraced former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and former Minister Konrad Mizzi resigned during the political crisis. At the same time, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that he would step down in January. The country was gripped by protests demanding resignations over the murder investigation of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Reflecting on the past year, Mifsud noted how Malta went through a period of “stark contradictions”. He noted that economic success and material well-being came at the expense of the disintegration of moral and ethical standards which have undermined the democratic texture of society. Legislation aimed at strengthening the rule of law and curbing corruption was completely neutralised by an arrogant and obsessive culture of impunity, Mifsud stated.

In his hard-hitting report, Mifsud noted that the culture of impunity was enjoyed by persons who flaunted the right friendships and connections and have substantial financial clout to influence the decisions taken by the public administration.

He warned that when such individuals act in cahoots with politicians and public authorities who have the duty to monitor, control and check abuse and violation of laws, the situation becomes dangerous.

The Ombudsman observed that the rule of law would be seriously prejudiced when corruption becomes a way of life. He said that isolated cases would always exist and it was important to weed out bad apples.

“When all are convinced that fat cats would by hook or by crook, get whatever they wanted, even if that breached laws and regulations applicable to all, if sanctioning of blatant irregularities that should normally lead to criminal prosecution and administrative penalties becomes the norm, the rule of law would be seriously prejudiced.”

Insitutions unable to cope

Writing about the fragility of the institutions, Mifsud noted that they seemed unable to cope with the added need to secure transparency and accountability of the public administration.

“Their inability and failure to promptly bring to justice those responsible for serious violations of the law gravely undermined the democratic credentials of the country.”

The authorities and institutions have the specific function to keep the public administration in check and under close scrutiny.

International organisations including the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, Moneyval and others have carried out thorough investigations of the state and demanded radical change after finding the institutions flawed.

The Ombudsman noted that some of these investigations and reports were made even before “the morbid details of the sinister connections between big business and the public administration at its highest level, that are today known to have been the backdrop behind the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, became known”.

“Drastic reforms are required if the country’s standing, trust, credibility and democratic credentials are to be restored,” the Ombudsman said.

Omtzigt welcomes report

Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Pieter Omtzigt has welcomed the report issued by the Ombudsman. The Dutch MP described the review of 2019 as “honest and hard-hitting”. He then proceeded to quote extracts from the report in a Twitter thread.