The Malta Independent 15 December 2017, Friday

The police force and the European Parliament

Simon Mercieca Monday, 20 November 2017, 07:55 Last update: about 25 days ago

Following the publication of my previous blog in which I referred to Harold Scorey,  I have received some interesting reactions which I wish to share. It has been pointed out to me that it is most unlikely that Harold was the person mentioned in this document because he was born in 1920. This document was compiled in 1932. Thus, it is unlikely that the British obtained such information from a 12-year old boy. This means that further research needs to be carried out.

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Nonetheless, this 1932 document clearly exposes the way recruitment for our local police force was carried out. This, in my opinion, is the source of most of the ailments in our police system. During Gerald Strickland’s government, the Police Force became heavily politicized, perhaps even more than it had been previously. The Strickland Government seized the opportunity to fill the Corps with recruits who came from families who supported it. This could happen because until 1987, recruitment for the Police Force was Government’s prerogative. It was Government’s responsibility to select and recruit individuals who could actually join the police force or not. The Police Force had no say in the matter.  During our colonial period, the philosophy was that recruits had to be sympathizers of Imperial Rule.

To be fair to history, when the Nationalist Government came to power in 1987, it tried to reform the system. But when it came to matters of justice regarding a number of individuals, who had been overlooked for promotion, the minister at the time, Guido de Marco and his staff, failed to correct matters. The Commission then set up to investigate police injustices, acted more as a screen for government. A number of honest policemen, who had suffered institutional injustices during Mintoff’s administration, had their claims discarded and their situation was not remedied, while others, who were involved in corrupt behaviour in the police force continued to advance in their career.

The fact is that, the Mintoff Government had maintained the same system of recruitment used in colonial times, using the Police Corps to accommodate the Party in Government. In the early 1970s, an order was issued from Castille that only those police officers who were known for their Labour colours should be stationed at Police Headquarters. 

At the time, Mintoff’s Government argued that Labour supporters were discriminated against, in particular after the riots in1958. This was not a baseless claim. Before these riots, Labourites were associated with the British. Between 1927 and 1930, they were part of Strickland’s government, accordingly forming part of what is known as the Compact Agreement and therefore, their supporters were amongst those who benefited from Strickland’s recruitment strategies.

During the time of Police Commissioner DeGray, there was political vetting within the police force. Often parish priests were even approached and asked for information about the political colour of the families of potential recruits. This does not signify that after 1958, Labour supporting individuals did not make it into the police force. DeGray believed that in the hour of need all police officers would do their duty.

Nevertheless, 30 odd years later, in 1987, the famous or infamous ransacking of our Law Courts proved DeGray’s philosophy utopic. Confronted by a serious threat from Labour thugs against a democratically elected government, the police officers on duty did nothing. They refused to take orders. This situation led to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, - Malta had no Police Commissioner  at the time following the removal of the incumbent  -  to declare  ‘my men let me down.’

To-day we do not have similar incidents, but the mistakes made by our politicians in the past are still haunting our Police Force. Even the reforms, implemented to improve police recruitment methods back then, still suffered political interference.

Perhaps, the period when intereference in the police force was minimal, was when Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici was Minister of Police during Gonzi’s administration. But then, this period was not without controversy. There was the mysterious death of Nicholas Azzopardi at the Police Depot. In this case, the different magistrates who conducted the investigations left much to be desired. They relied far too much on court experts, failing in all conscience to question the reports presented to them by these experts.  At least one of the court experts, engaged by the Magistrates’ Court in the case, became a source of great controversy following foreign courts questioning his work. Yet our judiciary continued using him as a court expert. It is a pity that because of the mentality existing today, even the supposed monitoring boards or authorities - call them what you wish - are far too politicized and are not true to their posts but to their allegiances. 

Perhaps it is time that instead of just lamenting the modus operandi of our legal institution, one started introducing clear operational guide lines which would once and for all inculcate the concept that each and every employee in our courts – and not only there -  from the most humble post to the highest post has a role to play and that each and every one is an important pivot in a system that could grind to a complete standstill if the laissez-faire and complacent attitude adopted so far by some continues. It is inadmissible that a country with our tradition and history can carry on accepting that court file cases or information from files go missing as has now been reported in the press regarding the murder of Karen Grech. This does not augur well for the current investigations into the last assassination, which occurred a month ago.

The Police Force is suffering from years and years of political interference, while our courts are suffering from the distrust of the man in the street towards them. In both cases, the much needed reforms have to come from within. It is up to us  the citizens who must start showing respect all round and instead of just shouting in the street, start by also giving praise when it is due. For this reason, I do not agree with those who are advocating bringing an outsider to lead the Police Corps. It is inconceivable that there is not a single person on the island capable of bringing about the reforms needed. Even if a foreign recruit has the experience and expertise, the chances are that a foreigner does not have a clue to our way of thinking. In this situation he will only add to the existing endemic malaise.  Moreover, past experiences have shown that foreigners come to make a quick buck and leave behind them an even worse situation.

In the past, competent individuals within the Police Force, whose loyality was to the Corps and not to any political party suffered because they did not make their political alliances clear to the Party in Government. Despite the fact they were more knowledgeable than their colleagues, they were refused promotion. Today, the Island and the Police Force are suffering from these despicable decisions. It is about time that this history of our police corps starts to be revisited if we want to reform the corps for the better. The Maltese people honestly believed in meritocracy in 2013. Let’s start practising it. Let’s start with the police force’s recruitment system and promotions. These should be based on competence not political alliances, else the situation will become truly irremediable.

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