Watch: Repubblika insists SOFA would breach spirit of Constitution

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Civil society NGO Repubblika was harshly critical of the government’s apparent intention to sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the US, insisting that such a step would fall foul of constitutional principles.

Repubblika said that the government’s explanations and official denials made no sense, and that there was no logical explanation for the Labour Party’s about-turn on a position which had been established for decades.

The NGO highlighted that the Constitution states that Malta actively seeks peace, and that while it did not mean outright hostility to any military visits, it did mean that these were not exempt from the application of the law. It pointed out that even when Malta hosted a British military base, Maltese courts retained full jurisdiction over crimes committed by British military personnel.

Repubblika referred to Freedom Day, which marks the end of the British military presence in Malta in 1979, and said that if any freedom was achieved, it was because Maltese law and jurisdiction had become applicable in the entire Maltese territory, including former bases like Pembroke and Mtarfa.

But with SOFA, it added, the government was reversing this freedom and abolishing the equal application of Maltes law.

“We can never understand how if a French or Chinese soldier stabs you or damages your property they are hauled before the Maltese courts but if an American soldier does the same, they cannot be touched,” Repubblika lamented.

Parliament debate essential

Repubblika highlighted the Labour Party’s long-standing stance on such matters, pointing out its 1988 Grand Harbour blockade to stop the entry of a British aircraft carrier, its 1991 establishment of a policy prohibiting US soldiers from setting foot of Malta, and its 1996 objection to repairing US military vessels in the Dockyards. Additionally, Alfred Sant’s first action as PM in 1996 was to announce Malta’s withdrawal from NATO’s Partnership for Peace.

Back in 2011, when Wikileaks published internal communications of the US State Department showing that the US was pressuring Malta in a bid to achieve a SOFA, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman at the time – current President George Vella – had been harshly critical of the government’s failure to consult Parliament and the Opposition.

Repubblika said that it wished to know what President Vella’s position was now, in light of his historic ideological hostility such an agreement and in light of his role as the guardian of the Constitution.

It said that while Labour had every right to change its policy, it was not aware of any open debate within the party on the issue which led to such a dramatic U-turn.

It also insisted that the party leadership had no right to change the spirit of the Constitution, stating that this should only happen following open parliamentary debate.

Denials not credible

The government has sought to deny claims that the SOFA would be a concession given in return for US support of Malta ahead of the crucial Moneyval review of its anti-money laundering efforts.

But Repubblika insisted the government’s denials were not credible, and that it expected the US government to issue a similar denial.

It highlighted that since 2013, a Labour government had trashed Malta’s international reputation and turned the country into a laundromat for criminals.

“Now the government is desperate to avoid grey listing for Malta. Possibly the government is also desperate to avoid consequences in the American courts for those responsible for this disaster,” Repubblika said.

While it acknowledged that it was not easy for a small country to resist pressure from the US government, it had managed to do so for now.

But “it seems that now American soldiers will be able to walk our streets with visible or hidden arms, without being accountable to the Maltese authorities. The Malta police will not be able to stop them, and should they use their arms illegally or abusively, our Courts will not have any jurisdiction in their regard,” it added.

“If the government signs this agreement, it will have redeemed the moral debts incurred since 2013 by selling our country’s freedom,” Repubblika concluded.