The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

Order to dismantle makeshift memorials to slain journalist came from minister, court hears

Monday, 12 November 2018, 14:48 Last update: about 2 months ago

The instruction to dismantle the makeshift memorials to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was given by Minister Owen Bonnici over the phone to the Director General of the Cleansing Department.

This was said in court by the Director General in question, Ramon Deguara.

Deguara was testifying before judge Joseph McKeon in the constitutional case filed by activist Manuel Delia against justice minister Owen Bonnici and the Director General responsible for the Cleansing Department over the removal of the makeshift memorial to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in front of the Great Siege monument in Valletta.

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A number of other persons also testified today, including Deo Debattista in his capacity as secretary for Valletta 2018 and a number of other official capacities.

Asked if the cleaning of the monument was carried out by him he said national monuments didn’t normally fall under his remit but he had been ordered to use his department by Owen Bonnici.

He was informed verbally about the decision. “The decision [to remove the items] was taken when the decision was taken to restore the monument.”

The judge asked if his remit as parliamentary secretary included national monuments, and whether would his minister would inform him of decisions to clean areas. “Not necessarily,” he said. “Often it happens like with poppies near the War Memorial.”

“I knew that restoration was going to take place, so I assume the instruction was given before the hoarding was raised.” After the hoarding was raised the department had cleaned the monument several times, he noted. He had never given instructions personally, he said.

Inspector Priscilla Caruana Lee on behalf of the Commissioner of Police presented the court with 8 reports about the removal of items from the monument during the period March to October. The judge asked who was making the reports. These were Karol Aquilina, Manuel Delia and Robert Aquilina, and other times police patrols she said.

The police would not be informed that the items were going to be removed, added the inspector.

She was unable to confirm whether the police had been in contact with the Justice Minister about the issue.

The Director General of the Cleansing Department, Ramon Deguara  took the stand next. He answered to the minister and the parliamentary secretary for V18, he said. “Cleaning of monuments is done regularly, flowers are removed after a period of time. The cleaning of the central Valletta area is the responsibility of the department,” Deguara said, adding that the decision to clean the monument was taken together with the decision to restore it.

In the more distant past, workers were under his instructions not to touch anything, he said. The decision to change this was received from minister Owen Bonnici, in connection with the restoration, he said. “We have workers cleaning Valletta every night, including the monument.”

“The instructions were…after the decision to restore was taken, that we were to clean both inside and outside the hoarding.”

The instruction was given orally by the minister over the phone to Deguara, the witness said. The cleaning was to take place between 10pm and 3am.

His workers had handed the items over to the police on a few occasions before they started depositing them in court. Before September the police hadn’t spoken to them, Deguara said, adding that after that month they had called him, asking that he return the items as there was a report of theft.

All the items extraneous to that left by the ministry were removed, said the witness.

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