The Malta Independent 17 February 2020, Monday

TMIS Editorial - From police to logistics: a consolation prize

Sunday, 26 January 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 22 days ago

The removal of Lawrence Cutajar from the post of Police Commissioner last week was a positive step forward.

His appointment this week as government consultant for public safety and logistics, however, took us two steps back.

We must make it clear from the onset; this is not some personal crusade against Cutajar. Nor are we saying that he lacks the qualifications necessary to land the €31,000 government gig.

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We feel however, that, given the circumstances under which Cutajar was forced to step down from the helm of the Malta Police Force, he should not have been given another top government role.

Let us not forget that Cutajar has faced three-and-a-half years of unrelenting criticism for his abject failure to act, or rather, get his people to act, in the face of some of the biggest political corruption scandals this country has ever seen.

Former police commissioners may have been criticized for failing to launch investigations into certain political misdeeds, but Cutajar’s list is so long that it cannot possibly be ignored.

When Cutajar was appointed police chief in April 2016, the Panama Papers revelations were still very fresh – the bombshell news that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s had set up companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand had come out just two months prior. Yet, under Cutajar, the police force did not initiate any criminal investigations.

When damning FIAU reports linking top politicians and their advisors to money laundering came out, the police force, under Cutajar, did not investigate.

Former FIAU director Manfred Galdes shed more light on the police force’s inaction this week, while testifying in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. What is the point of drafting such reports if the police did nothing on them, he asked?

He told the inquiry board that he had not received any feedback from the police, adding that, in one particular case he had gone directly to the police commissioner.

The incumbent director, Kenneth Farrugia, also told the board that the FIAU had handed over to the police no less than 15 reports that were directly related to the Panama Papers. Despite these efforts by the financial crime investigation entity, the police have affected zero arrests, zero arraignments.

When the Pilatus Bank saga erupted, with its chairman leaving the Ta’ Xbiex premises late at night with suitcases in hand, the police commissioner did not order his arrest and search of the bank. Instead, Cutajar was ridiculed for missing the show because of the infamous Mgarr rabbit dinner.

There are so many other instances where, in our opinion, the police force failed miserably. The ongoing court case on the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia has exposed so many instances of this.

We fail to understand, for example, how Keith Schembri’s Castille office was only searched ten days after his arrest. We fail to understand how his phone remains elusive.

We fail to understand how Schembri, who knew of Yorgen Fenech’s intentions to escape but kept them to himself, and who had passed on letters to Fenech through a third party, has not yet been placed under arrest.

We fail to understand how the lead investigator in the case literally investigated himself after Fenech claimed he had been leaking information to Keith Schembri.

Above all, Cutajar was the police chief under whose watch a journalist was assassinated.

The media, the Opposition and civil society groups had been calling for Cutajar’s resignation for years. Under his leadership, the force lost a lot of credibility and respect, and his successor will have a very hard time trying to mend the damage.

We had thought that Cutajar was paying the price for his ineptitude, that Abela was removing the people who were entrusted with important roles but failed to perform. Instead, Cutajar has been given another top government job. What kind of message does that send out?

The Home Affairs Ministry has said that Cutajar, a staunch PL supporter, landed the job because of his “35 years’ experience in the organisation of high-level national and public events.”

We are not contesting Cutajar’s logistical skills, but the fact remains that, rather than being given a cushy new job at the taxpayer’s expense, he should be answering for the failures of the police force during his tenure. Cutajar, like other public officials, must be held fully to account.

One also wonders whether the new job he has landed had already been agreed to by the Prime Minister before his resignation last week.

We thought that the new PM was cleaning house and removing underperformers. Instead, it seems he is handing out consolation prizes to those who failed miserably at the important tasks they were entrusted with.  

 

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