The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

Government and opposition lock horns over proposed police commissioner appointment system

Giulia Magri Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 20:08 Last update: about 7 months ago

Government and opposition MPs went head-to-head over the proposed police commissioner appointment system in Parliament, as the proposed bill put forward by the government began to be discussed.

The Bill is based on what Prime Minister Robert Abela had previously announced, that the new mechanism to appoint the police commissioner includes a public call which  will be made for applications. The applicants will be screened by the Public Service Commission and people from outside the police force will be eligible for the top post. The Commission would then judge each candidate and whittle the shortlist down to just two people. The Prime Minister will have the final say and would then choose Malta's next Police Commissioner from these two people. The person of choice will then face Parliament's Public Appointments Committee for scrutiny by MPs from both sides.

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Presenting the bill, Byron Camilleri described it as a "historic moment, as for the first time in our history, we have a government which is proposing a change which previous governments were too afraid to do."

Camilleri said that the government had held a video conference call with experts from the Venice Commission in recent weeks to discuss the proposed amendments. "The Venice Commission has recognised this as a very positive proposal, one which will take us in the right direction."

Camilleri said that the government followed the Venice Commission proposals and that the government is proposing a transparent system that would avoid the problems of a deadlock that a two-thirds majority system could create. "The opposition are calling for a two - thirds majority vote, but I am convinced that the Nationalist Party do not understand what we are discussing, as they have changed their argument over three times over a short period of time."

 He said that it is not fair for the people to wait weeks, even months for a new police commissioner to be appointed. "The people deserve a Police Force that is a friend to the community," he said, adding that the changes in the law for a new police commissioner will also see a change in the Police Force.

The minister spoke of the need for major reforms, and said that he hopes that by the end of the year, they would have started to implement them. He said that there is a lot of good in the force, but this does not mean that there aren't things that need to be changed.

Six police commissioners in seven years -  Beppe Fenech Adami

PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami disagreed on the new proposals, arguing that nothing will change and that it is a method based on corruption.

"The government criticises the opposition because we changed our position on the new law, but in the past seven years of the Labour government, we have had four home affairs ministers, and six police commissioners. This is truly a certificate of failure for this administration," said Fenech Adami.

 He said that the country is currently undergoing a huge crisis, especially in the Police Force, adding that the government is hiding the reality of it all. "We have the papers publishing stories which shock and scandalise. He asked how people are meant to trust the government anymore when there is no transparency in this new law.

He highlighted that prior to the 2013 Labour Government, Malta had a system which used to work. "Previously we had people who did not close their eyes to abuse, who were not irresponsible and who would choose a police commissioner who enjoyed the support of the people and who were regarded and serious and didn't have any shadows cast on them," he said. He highlighted that when Labour came into government in 2013, the first thing they did was to remove a police commissioner who had the trust of the people, and appoint one after the other for the past seven years. "This has only lead to the collapse of the Police Force."

Fenech Adami said that although the government portrays that the prime minister's power to veto was removed, the proposed law still gives the prime minister full power to decide as to who from the two candidates the Public Service Commission chooses, will be brought forward to Parliament.

He also stressed that the process is not transparent, as the proposed law does not allow the Maltese people to know on which basis the two candidates were chosen, and why the Prime Minister decided to choose one and not the other.

He commented that the government continues to insist that the Opposition two-thirds majority proposal wouldn't work. "We have had insistances when we required a two-thirds majority, and it worked well. So why can't we not adopt this method?"

We need to ensure that there is also a change in mentality - Carmelo Abela

Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela highlighted the importance of there being a change in mentality.

Abela, a former Minister of Home Affairs spoke highly of the new police reform laws.

He said that if the Public Service Commission will play a strong role in the application procedures, and the steps forward to appoint a new police commissioner.

He said that it is important that the Police Force continues to grow and be provided the necessary investment to modernise. "It is important to continue focusing on the necessary investments, to plan for the future and to have a system which continues moving forward," expressed Abela.

He hires, he fires - Jason Azzopardi

PN MP Jason Azzopardi accused the government for portraying a picture to which the government is following all the terms of the Venice Commission report, "when in reality it forgets to discuss one important point. At the end of the day, and I quote former Judge Giovanni Bonello, he (prime minister) hires, he fires," said Azzopardi.

He questioned how there can be change when the Prime Minister can still remove the police commissioner whenever he wishes. "The Prime Minister should not be involved in this decision, but he has the final say in who will be our new police commissioner. There is no form of transparency, and the opposition have no vote or say."

He said that The New York Times dedicated a whole article to the corruption within the Maltese Police Force. "Are we not aware that we have humiliated the hard working police officers who put their lives in danger to ensure the safety of the people? Yet, we have those police who are corrupt and get away with it, and this is a result of the attitude which our government has adopted."


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