The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

President George Vella told EP delegation ‘Malta deserves better’

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 9 January 2020, 14:55 Last update: about 3 months ago

President George Vella had told the European Parliament's MEP delegation to Malta last December that "Malta deserves better".

Early last December, a delegation from the European Parliament came to Malta to meet the country's institutions following the latest development in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation.

A Mission report about the delegation that came to Malta read that "The President of the Republic opened by generally deploring the situation in which his country is placed, declaring that 'Malta deserves better'. He then replied to a series of questions that led him to recall the constitutional limits in which his 'non-executive' presidency has to operate."

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Vella was asked about Presidential Pardons, and said that the President has to act "on the advice of Cabinet or Prime Minister" and cannot go beyond this advice. In such cases, the President seeks advice from other sources as well (police, Attorney General - who is also legal adviser to the government, private advice from constitutional lawyers) but his only constitutional possibility to mark disagreement with the Cabinet's advice is his own resignation. "Going further on his constitutional powers, the President stressed also that he cannot dismiss the Prime Minister but can only accept his resignation."

He could also ask the Prime Minister to leave office should a majority of Members of Parliament from the government's side were to give evidence that the Prime Minister did not hold their confidence anymore, President Abela had told the delegation. He would then be in a position to nominate a successor backed by the House.

During their meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, "the leader of the delegation mentioned recent developments in the investigation of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and concerns that the investigation as such is not compromised. The overall atmosphere, the lack of trust in the authorities and the concerns linked to the Rule of law situation in Malta were also raised. It was clearly underlined that the EU is based on mutual trust and that if the Rule of Law is under threat in one of the Member States the entire EU is affected. In this context, it was noted that the resolution adopted on 28 March 2019 on the situation of the rule of law and the fight against corruption in the EU, specifically in Malta and Slovakia, included a clear call on the Commission to enter into dialogue with the Maltese Government in the context of the Rule of Law Framework."

"In his intervention, the Prime Minister underlined that given all the accusations in the public sphere he had announced already that he would resign and that all along the investigation he did not had any access to any evidence, even though he acknowledged having been briefed as a matter of national security. He also briefly outlined the public statements he gave in connection with the investigation which were meant to ensure communication to the public. He also pointed out that the breakthrough in the investigation was achieved thanks to conscious political decisions on his part such as accepting immediately the support of FBI in the investigations, or following the advice of the Attorney General and of the police in relation to the pardon which accelerated the progress in the investigations. The involvement and support of Europol and FBI in the murder investigation were also underlined during the discussion."

 In the exchange, the possible involvement of Members of his cabinet, and in particular of Schembri, was also mentioned by members of the delegation as well as the ensuing distrust in the public sphere by part of the population. "The Prime Minister acknowledged this lack of trust as one of the reasons that lead to his resignation and that he assumed his political responsibility for a lack of political judgement on his part. As regards the recent protests, he mentioned that he did not criticise them but noted that protests should never lead to violence in general," the report read.

As a follow up of this mission, the Members of the delegation reached a number of key findings.

Firstly, "there are concerns that the delayed resignation of Prime Minister Muscat poses a risk, real or perceived, to integrity of the murder investigation. The failing of addressing the climate of distrust and the negative perceptions of the government's actions might be also a source of concern and in this context it is of maximum importance that the investigations continue without undue interference and that justice is served"

The mission "acknowledged the progress in police investigation of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, while recognising that the case is far from being closed. In this context, we noted that the authorities mentioned the good cooperation with Europol which has to be continued."

The mission welcomed the establishment of an Independent Public inquiry with a precise scope and timeline which addressed substantive criticisms and now satisfies all parties.

The mission noted that in the context of concerns as regards the situation of the rule of law in the country, the recommendations of the Venice Commission have to be duly followed up, in particular as regards the decoupling of the functions of the Attorney General and the current system of judicial appointments. they acknowledged that steps were taken to initiate reforms, "but ensuring the transparency of the process and a real consultation of the civil society is very important to restore the credibility".

The MEPs also said that the lack of investigation and progress as regards the cases of corruption and money laundering remains a source of concern.

They said that further steps need to be taken to ensure media freedom and safety of journalists. "Ensuring a real support and protection for civil society remains to be achieved.

The MEPs added that the financing of political parties is an area of concern and clears steps need to be taken to separate business life from political life.

"Based on the findings of this mission and of concerns linked to the rule of law situation, the Members reiterate the call on the Commission to enter into dialogue with the Maltese Government in the context of the Rule of Law Framework, as already included in the EP resolution adopted on 28 March 2019 on the situation of the rule of law and the fight against corruption in the EU, specifically in Malta and Slovakia."

The full report can be read here.
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