The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: Public inquiry countdown ticking away quickly

Sunday, 18 August 2019, 10:48 Last update: about 7 months ago

The deadline imposed by the Council of Europe within which the government needs to establish a public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia is fast approaching, and is now only less than six weeks away.

The Council of Europe had given Malta three months to establish the composition and terms of reference for that inquiry, which we have a sneaking suspicion that the government is most reticent to set up. The reasons behind that are best known to its and its functionaries, but the government is very clearly and very intentionally dragging its feet to the starting line.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the deadline elapses at the end of next month.

But as the days tick by, the government sticks firmly to its line that there is an ongoing engagement with the Council of Europe to ensure that such inquiry does not, in any way, prejudice ongoing investigations and/or the current criminal proceedings against three people accused of the murder.

The ball has been in the government’s court for an awfully long time now. In fact, the first call for a public inquiry into the murder came within a matter of days of the event that shook the country to its core, and the reverberations are still being felt to this day.

Friday marked the 22nd month since that fateful day and yet, despite the prime minister continually pledging to leave no stone unturned, the real culprits, those who paid for the hit, remain at large unscathed.

One would imagine that a public inquiry into all this would serve the government’s purposes best, first and foremost, so as to put all the accusations and insinuations top bed once and for all.

But still, the government appears to be resisting it at every fork in the road.

The justice minister, as of last week, was still seeking advice from the attorney general as well as what he called ‘external advice’ to ensure that it does not do anything that in any way damages any ongoing investigation or procedure currently in court.

This has been an awfully long process for the country’s legal eagles to thrash out, abnormally long in actual fact. We are quite certain that the attorney general and his office, for example, would have very little difficulty drawing up the remit.

But the government continues to drag its feet on this matter of the utmost national importance. That is because of all the contents of the Council of Europe’s resolution, the most important recommendation that the prime minister set in motion an independent and impartial judicial public inquiry into the circumstances of the assassination. But so far, the government has not moved a muscle, at least not in public, to initiate any sort of public inquiry, other than to give excuses as to why it should not be held. It has only paid lip service.

“I definitely will not be the person to shoulder responsibility if a public inquiry and its process ends up destroying the current case against the three arrested persons; I will not shoulder that responsibility – I am definitely not ready to do that,” the prime minister has warned.

The government really needs to make its intentions known. It needs to stop flirting and toying with the idea and get down to doing what it will eventually have to do at the end of the day: hold the inquiry because this is something that simply will not go away.

But what is of fundamental importance is that this inquiry is truly impartial and independent. Now that the first hurdle has been overcome and the government appears to be ready to launch the inquiry within the stipulated timeframe, now comes this next crucial obstacle: ensuring the inquiry is a real and impartial one that well and truly leaves no stone unturned.

It must also be given as broad a remit and terms of reference as possible given the broad nature of the crime and be established on a sound legal basis in line with the law.

But should the government not meet the deadline, or should it ignore it altogether, what happens next if we, as a nation, do not comply with the demand and its deadline? Expulsion from the Council of Europe? And even so, one is inclined to think that, at this stage, this government would not even give two hoots about that, as long as it retains power and as long as the truth remains buried right where it is.


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