The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Police chief appointment: ‘We wasted another opportunity’ - NGO

Wednesday, 22 January 2020, 10:16 Last update: about 2 months ago

NGO Repubblika today expressed its worry and disappointment with regard to the supposed reform the Prime Minister announced yesterday concerning the appointment of the Police Commissioner. Although the method of this appointment is not dictated by Constitutional law, the Police Commissioner holds a very important constitutional role, because he is the only agent of the state who can apply the law when it is broken.

Our main worry, and that of the Venice Commission, is that, as in the case of many other appointments, the Police Commissioner is appointed through the absolute discretion of the Prime Minister and without any sort of checks and balance, the NGO said.

ADVERTISEMENT

There is nothing in the changes announced by the Prime Minister that decreases, qualifies or in any way shares with other institutions the Prime Minister’s power to select, employ or remove the Police Commissioner.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abela announced that the police chief will be selected after a call for applications issued by the Public Service Commissioner. The number of candidates is whittled down to two, with the PM having the final say on who is chosen.

In a statement this morning, Repubblika said the changes proposed are only apparent. It is obvious that any serious reform would necessarily include the measure to open up applications for this position to persons outside the corps. However, this measure is only useful if the selection is made by persons independently of the Prime Minister.

On the contrary, these applications will be evaluated by the Public Service Commission, an antiquated institution in our Constitution that actually preserves the unfettered powers of our Prime Minister. Contrary to what was reported by certain parts of the press, the Public Service Commission is “appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition”.

In effect, this means that the Prime Minister can actually appoint whoever s/he likes on the Commission even if the Opposition does not approve them.

Moreover, those who will be selecting the short list of candidates for Police Commissioner are not appointed on the basis of competence, merit or objectivity. None of them is expected to understand the work of a Police Commissioner or has the ability or motivation to evaluate the applications on the basis of strategic and objective goals regarding the implementation of the law. On the contrary, the persons who are going to decide were selected solely on the basis of the fact that the Prime Minister is happy to have them there, the NGO said.

However, ultimately, the reform that the Prime Minister has announced does not even let them choose who gets to be the Commissioner. They are simply going to hand over a short list to the Prime Minister, who is then going to choose his candidate, who will finally be approved by a simple majority in Parliament which usually, blindly executes whatever the Prime Minister wants.

These ceremonial procedures which pretend to create independence in the choice of a state official, but which in reality leave the choice to the Prime Minister’s monarchic and absolutist power, have already been applied by the Government in the so-called reform regarding the appointment of the judiciary. The Maltese Court of Appeal has already declared that this process does not remove any part of the unlimited power of the Prime Minister.

Perhaps Prime Minister Robert Abela was joking when he said he was denying himself the benefit of the advice of the Venice commission to retain the right of veto in case he dislikes a candidate selected through an independent process. Robert Abela did not need to retain the right of veto because he actually retained the power to decide in all the preceding stages. The Venice Commission suggested a veto because what it proposed meant that each stage of the selection process, before reaching the final selection, would be carried out without any interference from the Prime Minister and away from his influence. Robert Abela’s reform goes against this, Repubblika said.

Prime Minister Robert Abela promised and committed himself to choosing a Police Commissioner who is competent and ready to carry out his work properly. Although it is unfair to measure the present Prime Minister’s credibility on what the previous one had done, we cannot forget that Joseph Muscat also promised and guaranteed that “the institutions are functioning well”. Joseph Muscat also stood by Lawrence Cutajar, who was dismissed by Robert Abela.

This is why a change in Prime Ministers is not enough for us. After the injustice done to Daphne Caruana Galizia and the impunity of her murderers and of the corrupt persons she exposed, which until today, has not been stopped, we did not only want the Prime Minister to change. We want the powers that Joseph Muscat exploited, in order to allow this impunity to happen, to be curtailed.

Robert Abela’s reference to the Venice Commission’s report does not impress us. Just as Joseph Muscat’s government had done when it introduced the reform regarding the Attorney General’s office, the Government today has taken an extract of the Venice Commission’s report out of context and has implemented it with a set of measures that practically nullify the Commission’s intent to see the Prime Minister’s powers reduced and those of the institutions strengthened.

As far as we can see, the Government has ignored the appeals of the Venice Commission to consult civil society effectively before making any constitutional or institutional reforms. In contrast, he gave us the opportunity to remind him of the aims of the reforms proposed by the Venice Commission. Robert Abela did not want to risk, and hurried to introduce measures that would preserve his unlimited powers.

As far as we can understand, the Prime Minister has, in reality, not changed any of his unlimited power to dismiss the Police Commissioner at his discretion and for no apparent reason. If this is the case, then the Government is retaining the power to threaten any Commissioner wanting to take action against it, that it can retaliate by firing him.

We know that this kind of power led Police Commissioner Michael Cassar, for example, to opt to resign rather than muster the necessary courage to accuse Konrad Mizzi of money-laundering, the NGO said.

We are disappointed to see wasted another opportunity to create reform that would truly democratize our institutions. We are worried that Robert Abela, who presides over a parliamentary majority that, besides others, includes Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Chis Cardona and Edward Scicluna, is motivated to preserve the impunity that has prevailed up to now. We have to see in order to believe that Robert Abela really wants justice to be done with all those who deserve it, even if this may bring political harm to him and his party.

Until we see this happen, and given the way his predecessor acted - to whom he has given his support in Parliament and who he praised so highly in the last few weeks – we are worried that Robert Abela will use this change, which is actually ineffective, to cover up his efforts to retain a Police Commissioner who will be a political puppet and who will allow criminal politicians to continue to do as they please.

  • don't miss