The Malta Independent 18 September 2019, Wednesday

Council of Europe body awaiting government’s permission to publish ‘damning’ report'

David Lindsay Sunday, 31 March 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

The Council of Europe's anti-corruption body, GRECO, has drawn up what sources described to this newspaper as a "damning" evaluation report on Malta, but the body is precluded from releasing its findings on the state of corruption in Malta until the Maltese government gives its consent.

Sources have confirmed that the report, which is published every five years as part of a regular review cycle, was delivered to the Maltese government on Tuesday but, as of yesterday, GRECO still had its hands tied as it awaits the Maltese government's permission to make it public.

A spokesperson for GRECO - the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption - contacted by this newspaper confirmed this week that established rules dictate that GRECO can only publish country reports if the states concerned authorise it.

The report on Malta (GrecoEval5Rep(2018)6) was adopted by the Council of Europe's member states last week during the Fifth Round of Reports. Malta has been given a deadline of 30 September 2020 to report on the measures it has taken to implement GRECO's still unpublished recommendations.

Member states also "invited the authorities of Malta to authorise, as soon as possible, the publication of the report".

Nordic countries usually give their consent immediately, sources said, and it is rare, but possible, that a country refuses to release it into the public domain.

The GRECO spokesperson, in fact, agreed that it is an "exception" that a country refuses consent to publish. One is the case of Belarus, which is not a Council of Europe member state, and which has not yet authorised the publication of any GRECO reports.

The other case is that of Hungary, an EU bête noir when it comes to rule of law, which has not yet authorised the publication of two compliance reports - one adopted in June 2017, and another one last December.

On the whole, countries usually authorise the publication of their reports at some stage and Malta has, so far, authorised the publication of every report.

It was also officially confirmed that GRECO has indeed sent the report adopted on Malta to the national authorities and is waiting for the authorisation to publish it, as per usual practice.

But, without that permission, it seems that the report would never see the light of day since, as the spokesperson explains, "GRECO can only publish the reports following the authorisation by the state concerned."

Research going into GRECO's corruption report on Malta was conducted in the aftermath of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The visit, which was meant to be been conducted in 2019, had come a year earlier than planned. GRECO had insisted with The Times of Malta at the beginning of 2018 that its visit to and research on the situation of corruption in Malta had nothing to do with recent events. Rather, it was "planning issues" because a mission to another country had to be moved to 2019, when the visit to Malta was meant to have been carried out.

The visit was to focus on corruption prevention as regards the central government, including the top executive and the law enforcement authorities

Malta's last evaluation by GRECO was back in 2014. That report had deemed the Maltese government's level of compliance with its recommendations on political funding as "globally unsatisfactory". It also called for action on real or potential conflicts of interest, the introduction of proper laws governing rules on gifts to MPs, the misuse of public resources, the misuse of confidential information, revolving doors and third-party contacts.

This new round of evaluation is expected to take on matters related to the Panama Papers, alleged corruption by members of government and possibly the murder of Caruana Galizia.

The parallel Council of Europe inquiry

In parallel, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is currently undertaking an inquiry in Caruana Galizia's murder.

Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt is tasked with preparing a report for the PACE on the investigation into the assassination of Caruana Galizia and the rule of law in Malta

He had recently expressed concern over "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".

He is basing his report on three working assumptions:

"That the means employed to commit Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder indicate that it was planned and premeditated long in advance;

"That the person or persons ultimately responsible for her assassination were motivated by her investigative work, either already published or on which she was engaged at the time of her death and;

"That the three arrested suspects were most likely acting under instructions, since there is little to suggest that they had any personal motive to kill her - they had not been the subject of her investigations."

The rapporteur has also held hearings in Malta to "hear first-hand from experts in different fields" about the investigation and the murder, as well as visiting Malta to speak to the authorities and other relevant interlocutors.

He also invited anyone to come forward with information and guaranteed his or her anonymity.

Last September, Labour MP and former home affairs minister Manuel Mallia had unsuccessfully attempted to force Omtzigt off the case.

The Office of the Prime Minister had stated at the time that the government was disappointed the Parliamentary Assembly did not take the opportunity to "review the rapporteurship and appoint someone who can be trusted to be independent, impartial, and conduct the review with integrity".

Omtzigt's public statements and introductory memorandum, as reported live, made it clear this was not the case, the OPM had noted.

Mallia had made the request in his capacity as member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, but reportedly found no backing from his fellow committee members, not even those from his own political grouping.


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