The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

TMIS Editorial - New AG: More of the same?

Sunday, 13 September 2020, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

The new Attorney General, Victoria Buttigieg, has a daunting task ahead of her. She needs to restore credibility to the office she leads, but this is no easy task, given its apparent failures over the past few years, and given the questionable decisions she was a part of, and which were revealed for the first time over the past week.

A few days ago, Matthew Caruana Galizia published an email exchange that purports to show that a legal opinion by Victoria Buttigieg allowed Konrad Mizzi to include a clause in the Electrogas Security and Supply Agreement that allowed him to bypass Cabinet and Parliament.

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Furthermore, when testifying in the public inquiry this week, former police chief Lawrence Cutajar said Buttigieg had opined that former police deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta should remain on the Daphne murder investigation team, despite his glaring conflict of interest.

It had emerged that Valletta, the husband of former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana, had been good friends with the suspected mastermind, Yorgen Fenech. The two shared a very close relationship, to the extent that they went abroad together, and Valletta’s children referred to Fenech as ‘uncle.’

Valletta was ultimately kicked off the investigation team, but the blunder cost Justyne Caruana her Cabinet job and caused a government scandal.

Cutajar told the inquiry board that the police had received advice from the office of the Attorney General to keep Valletta on the case. 

Back then, the Attorney General had dual roles: he served as chief legal advisor to the government and also as the public prosecutor.

When the roles were split and the government created the new post of State Advocate, Buttigieg landed the job. It was said, back then, that she was the ideal person for the job because, during her time at the AG’s office, she was hardly involved in any criminal cases but focused more on the legal advisory role.

A few days ago, Buttigieg left her job as State Advocate and became Attorney General, replacing her former boss Peter Grech.

The revelations from the past week have led to criticism against Buttigieg over both roles. Wearing her hat as legal advisor to the government she had advised in favour of the questionable Electrogas clause. And, wearing a prosecutor’s hat, she had been of the opinion that Silvio Valletta should have stayed on as part of the investigation, despite the obvious conflict of interest.

The family of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia says that the real reason behind the murder was the corruption surrounding the power station deal. Daphne had received tens of thousands of leaked emails and documents and was slowly uncovering the case.

Some now say that Buttigieg cannot fulfil her role as AG properly given that the two aforementioned opinions she had given were both connected to the same project.

Some have also argued that Buttigieg is too similar to her predecessor – she has even been referred to by some quarters as a “clone” of Peter Grech.

Indeed, she was part of Grech’s team when civil society groups took to the streets to protest the inaction by police in the face of mounting evidence of wrongdoing and corruption by senior government members.

Since Buttigieg was part of the AG’s team at the time, it is only natural that people will question whether she would have acted in the same way Grech did.

The government has said the appointment of Malta’s first woman AG is a historic milestone, and this could be the case.

But Buttigieg has a lot to prove. She must do everything in her power, through her actions, to convince us that things will be different from now onwards, that the AG’s office under her direction will find the will to leave no stone unturned when it comes to wrongdoing by politicians. There can be no more excuses. Action must be taken as soon as allegations of corruption or attempts to perverse the course of justice come in. All resources must be directed towards investigating these claims, evidence must be collected swiftly (unlike the Pilatus Bank case) and those responsible must be prosecuted and brought to justice.

The reputation of the office has taken a severe beating over the past years and people demand much more of it. Restoring this reputation is a daunting task and we truly hope that the new AG lives up to the job and proves us, and her critics wrong.

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