The Malta Independent 25 May 2019, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: A year and a half and still no answers

Sunday, 14 April 2019, 11:19 Last update: about 2 months ago

Next week will mark a year and a half since the page opposite this leading article has had new inhabitants. You see, this space next to our Sunday editorial was almost always reserved for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s column.

And we have gotten nowhere as the wheels of justice grind along very slowly indeed. Now whether those tyres have also been clamped is another issue.

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Her family has now been compelled to initiate legal proceedings as the Maltese government continues to flatly refuse to launch a public inquiry, which is urgently needed to determine whether her life could have been saved and how to protect other journalists in Malta.

That is just one of the two public inquiries into the heinous murder, which has forever changed the face of Malta and Maltese journalism.

The first is the resounding national and international call for a public inquiry into the assassination of the journalist; the second is the inquiry being led by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on the murder, Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt.

Omtzigt last week held a Council of Europe hearing on the matter, attended by the justice minister and two of Caruana Galizia’s sons. Omtzigt tweeted after the hearing that the minister did not look the sons in the face once during the long session.

Now whether this is true or not is one thing, but even if it were a falsehood, it would be utterly symptomatic of the odds at which Malta finds itself with many of its European peers.

While the government may dispense platitudes about the need for a public inquiry in Malta, as it has inadvisably done, it is in absolutely no position to stop the Council of Europe’s work.

Worse still, the government had tried to, through its MP, former Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, but not even his fellow Socialist MPs supported the motion to have Omtzigt taken off the case.

The Dutch MP is apparently deeply concerned about the way matters have panned out since the assassination, and has expressed concern on “many issues concerning the rule of law in Malta, the progress made in investigating the murder, and the attitude and behaviour of certain senior public officials.”

Now for the public inquiry that needs to be held in Malta and which the government, through the Attorney General’s Office, is refusing so steadfastly.

Over and above everything such an inquiry needs to cover is how the murder could have been prevented and, to our minds, that murder could have been prevented if the stories the journalist had published had actually been investigated by the authorities as they should have been.

That is because, had there been such investigations, those investigations would have served as a buffer between whoever it was that commissioned the despicable act and the journalist herself.

From a journalistic standpoint, and, more importantly, from the standpoint of the national interest, it needs to be established why, exactly, those scoops, particularly those that implicated people in the highest echelons of power, were never investigated. It needs to be determined why, when reports of misconduct of those at, and close to, the epicentre of power were drawn up, they were left to gather dust on successive police commissioners’ desks.

The calls for such an inquiry – which would uncover what really happened as well as determine whether that life could have been saved – were spearheaded by the murdered journalist’s family and their solicitors, who have since engaged in a tit-for-tat volley of questions with Malta’s attorney general.

The government had previously said it would be open to such an inquiry, but floated the opinion that it would unnecessarily overlap with the ongoing magisterial inquiry into the murder. But perhaps, just perhaps, the two inquiries could actually complement each other, if they are done properly.

That seems to be off the cards with the government having, for one reason or another, balked at the repeated proposition.

Not only the victims, the journalist’s family, but also international bodies of high repute and Malta’s opposition party – which is also demanding that a board of inquiry composed of a number of people known for their integrity and honesty with the chairman to be appointed by the prime minister after a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament – are all demanding this inquiry and the government is doing itself and the country no favours by delaying or denying it.

The government cannot run from this situation forever, because if it refuses to do the right thing and open a public inquiry, sooner or later those tenacious people at the Council of Europe and at the European Parliament will certainly not let sleeping dogs lie.

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