The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Watch: Police chief - PM to choose between two candidates put forward by PSC

Tuesday, 21 January 2020, 18:13 Last update: about 2 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced Cabinet's proposed changes to the way Police Commissioners are appointed which would include a public call for applications, but no need for a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament, as the Opposition is suggesting.

The decision comes after a Cabinet meeting which was held on Tuesday morning. The appointment of the commissioner was high on the agenda of the new PM, after months of criticism involving the last police chief, Lawrence Cutajar.


Cutajar resigned soon after Prime Minister Robert Abela took office, with the Pm accepting the resignation immediately.

He has been temporarily replaced by Carmelo Magri, the most senior police officer. 

Cutajar was under fire for months, in particular by civil society, for his failure to investigate allegations of corruption. He had been appointed by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

On the day of the Cutajar's resignation was announced, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that Cabinet would be discussing changes to the way Police Commissioners are appointed.

On Tuesday, he unveiled Cabinet's decision.

Making the announcement, Abela said that this method reflects the transparency "we believe in."

The method will begin "with the basic principle, that I saw nowhere in the PN's proposal, which was a principle established by the Venice Commission, for there to be public competition. The competition will not be internal within the police force, but a public one. This means that eligible persons will be able to apply for the post through a public call, he said, that will be issued by the Public Service Commission.

The criteria for eligibility of candidates will be drawn up by the Public Service Commission, Abela said.

The Public Service Commission, he said, is an authority established in the Constitution. "Two of the representatives on it are appointed by the government, two are appointed by the Opposition and the Chairman is agreed upon by the political parties."

Applications, after being submitted, will be evaluated by the Public Service Commission, and these will be shortlisted down to two candidates, he said.

"These two will be the most capable, in the Commission's eyes, to occupy the position of Police Commissioner. From there, the process will then go to the Prime Minister, who will choose the candidate who he believes is best suited to occupy the post of Police Commissioner."

"It is good to see what the Venice Commission had said in its report, giving the Prime Minister the right to refuse who the evaluation committee sends, and I am ready to drop this right. I am ready to drop this as I do not want to be in a position to be in contrast with the Public Service Commission, where the Commission would send a candidate and the Prime Minister would say no."

He said that there will be a further step - the Public Appointments Committee in Parliament, composed of both government and opposition MPs. "So the Prime Minister's choice will not be final, and the chosen person would then go before the committee which would be able to scrutinize. The Opposition will have all the opportunity to ask their questions and from there, a Parliamentary vote will also be held."

Abela, addressing the press, said that the last aspect is his word to the Maltese people - that he wants a police commissioner who is serious, left to do his work autonomously without any interference.

Asked about timeframes, Prime Minister Abela said that he wants to move as fast as possible with this so that the country would have a Police commissioner appointed through this new transparent method, but said that until then, there is an Acting Commissioner in place.

During the question and answer period, Abela highlighted that the idea of requiring a 2/3rds Parliamentary majority is nowhere to be seen in the Venice Commission report.

In the meantime, Abela also said he had taken action "within seconds" after he was informed that two members of his security detail were being investigated as part of a whistleblower case.

Earlier in the day, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi published an email he had received (the PM was also copied), in which it was claimed that the two officers had been transferred to the police's traffic section and told that they were being moved because of the ongoing investigation.

Azzopardi said the police force had thus breached whistleblower confidentiality.

In a statement, the police said that investigations into claims "made on social media" about traffic police had started as soon as the allegations surfaced.

Abela said he had not chosen, but had rather "inherited" the two members of his security detail and insisted he had taken immediate action as soon as he was informed of the allegations.



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