Opposition Leader Adrian Delia and MP Jason Azzopardi urged the government to implement the recommendations of a recent Council of Europe report which condemns the rule of law in Malta and raises concerns about the investigation into the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The report prepared by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt was overwhelmingly approved last week.
Delia and Azzopardi spoke during a debate on a Bill introducing amendments to various laws for the better administration of justice.
During the debate, Azzopardi highlighted various reasons to call for a public inquiry which is separate to the ongoing magisterial inquiry. A public inquiry would investigate the motive behind Caruana Galizia’s assassination, whether death was avoidable and whether there was political responsibility.
During his address in parliament Delia reminded that the former Faculty of Laws dean Kevin Aquilina had described the government proposed changes as ‘parody’. The changes were proposed after the Venice Commission issued an opinion on Malta’s legal system.
The Opposition Leader said that one cannot discuss amendments to existing laws when the system is threatened as a whole. Referring to the CoE report on Malta, Delia said that once again the country was put in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. He said that in other countries including countries like Mongolia, politicians tendered their resignation when they were exposed in the Panama Papers of having off-shore structures. Delia contrasted this with Malta, saying that “here they are given the Prime Minister’s protection”. Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri were both found to have off-shore structures in Panama.
Speaking about Bank of Valletta losing its last correspondent bank in US dollars, Delia said that this was a result of bad administration of the country resulting in bad reputation. Delia urged for a solution on this matter before December as it will negatively impact businesses in Malta.
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said that despite all the efforts by government MPs to emend the resolution on Malta, the government had no amendments to make on the references to the Dubai-based company 17 Black.
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici described Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi as “delighted” by the outcome of the Council of Europe’s vote last week. Bonnici spoke in parliament during the winding up of the debate on Tuesday.
Bonnici said that while Azzopardi who forms part of the delegation of MPs to PACE was “badmouthing” Malta, foreign MPs “were defending Malta”. Earlier during the debate, Azzopardi pointed out that Azerbaijan had voted against the report and resolution, describing the country as the “most corrupt” in Europe.
Azerbaijan, a member of the Council of Europe since 2001, has been accused of “caviar diplomacy”, using cash and gifts to buy influence charges first detailed by the European Stability Initiative thinktank in 2012. A critical report on Azerbaijan’s political prisoners was voted down in 2013 by the Council. An independent investigation led to the expulsion of thirteen members of the Assembly, after they were found to have accepted gifts and bribes from the Azeri government in 2018.
During the plenary debate at the Assembly, the Azeri delegation took up four speaking slots out of the 20, while Malta’s government MPs only took two when the report on Malta was being discussed and voted on. All six of Azerbaijan’s MPs voted against the resolution.
During the winding up of the parliamentary debate, Bonnici said that the Opposition did not utter a word on the proposed amendments. He argued that Azzopardi “worked against Malta” and voted for monitoring procedures to be adopted on Malta. According to the Bonnici such procedures have only been employed once on Turkey.
The Justice Minister reiterated criticism of Omtzigt, he had drawn criticism of a report which had looked into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine in 2017.