The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Police minister - The real reason why a resignation is warranted

Friday, 1 December 2017, 10:23 Last update: about 14 days ago

Minister Carmelo Abela has come under fire after sacked FIAU official Jonathan Ferris finally revealed the name of the minister who, he claims, “interfered” in a police investigation.

Ferris said Abela, who was then minister responsible for the police, had inquired about the progress of a particular fraud investigation. The requests were at first made through a member of the minister’s staff but the minister himself later became involved in the email thread.

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At no point did Ferris state that he had received any instructions from the minister, who seems to only have been inquiring about the case after the victim complained that he or she had been left in the dark. Abela insists that he was well within his right to do so.

While one can debate whether what the minister was in breach of the law or not, it is clear to us that the minister responsible for the police should not be in direct contact with police inspectors, the people on the ground, leading investigations.

There are surely other more appropriate ways, such as having the ministry contact the police leadership, with the latter simply informing the former whether a case is ongoing or concluded.

Naturally, the Opposition jumped at the chance to call for Abela’s resignation, and in Parliament Delia said there was now “black on white” evidence of ministerial interference. The PN leader said Abela had asked for information about the case. He did not actually state how the minister had interfered in the case.

In our view the Opposition should not be pushing for the minister’s resignation over an inquisitive email. It should not be calling for Abela’s head to roll over this so called ‘interference.’ Rather, it should ask for his resignation based on the minister’s lack of direction to the police force over the Panama Papers and FIAU scandals

The real issue here is that, under Abela and others before and after him, the police force failed to even launch an investigation over one of the biggest scandals to rock Maltese politics in recent years.

A minster and the PM’s chief of staff opened companies in a secretive jurisdiction with the promise of depositing at least one million dollars a year yet they are not being investigated.

Months later, several damning FIAU reports come out, concluding that there was reasonable suspicion of money laundering in cases involving Mizzi, Schembri and others, but the police are still sitting on their backsides.

The current police minister, Michael Farrugia, is equally at fault here.

On the other hand, the Opposition cannot expect to have the cake and eat it too. It has been calling on the PM and on government ministers to launch an investigation into the abovementioned cases, but now it attacks Abela, saying that ministers should not even speak to the police on investigations. So which is it?

The PN says that ministers should not tell the police what to do or not do. That has not always been the case. Former PN politicians did instruct the police to investigate certain cases. For example, Lawrence Gonzi had asked then police commissioner John Rizzo to investigate the oil scandal claims. So it is not always a bad thing for a minister to get the ball rolling, although, ideally, the police should not have to be prompted to do their job.

The problem is when politicians tell the police not to act or to stop acting, or when they do not demand action when the police fail to do their job. Under Labour there were several potential cases that never materialized, all involving senior politicians.

At least in the oil scandal case people were prosecuted, even if the outcome remains unclear. But the same thing cannot be said for more recent cases that took place under this administration.

The simple truth is that the police force has become a government tool under Labour, and credibility in the force has dipped. That is the real reason why Labour police ministers had to resign. If anything, out of self-respect.

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