The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Public inquiry - Of exceeded remits and kitchen cabinets

Saturday, 19 September 2020, 08:39 Last update: about 2 months ago

A new controversy erupted this week over the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry after government MP Glenn Bedingfield said it has turned into a “political exercise.”

The outspoken MP went as far as to hint that the board members are delaying the process in order to earn more money. He pointed out that two out of its three members are earning over €4,000 a month.

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We have no reason to believe that this is truly the case, and the inquiry board members - Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro – are well respected and known to be people of integrity.

But the truth is that questions have arisen over the past months about the direction in which this inquiry is heading.

For example, the choice of certain witnesses who were brought to testify have left us somewhat baffled.

The inquiry has very clear terms of reference: to determine whether the state could have done more to prevent the journalist’s murder.

It seems to us that some of the witnesses summoned can hardly answer this question.

The inquiry was originally given nine months to conclude. The government has now reluctantly allowed to give a one-time extension. Critics have blasted Prime Minister Robert Abela, saying that the inquiry should be given all the time it needs to fulfil its task.

There are, of course, other contentious issues. The fact that the Caruana Galizia family is being represented by two Nationalist MPs, for example, is not ideal.

The fact that the lawyers have such a strong link to the Opposition sometimes makes people wonder whether the choice of witnesses and their line of questioning is sometimes intended only for political gain. Having lawyers who are not also politicians would have provided a stronger sense of transparency.

But the fact remains that the inquiry has also led to a number of bombshell revelations, including about how Muscat’s government was run by a so-called kitchen cabinet.

It was Finance Minister Edward Scicluna who used the term when explaining major decisions were taken not by the Cabinet but by a select group of lawyers and advisors, and how controversial deals were pushed through without the approval of the competent ministries.

A few weeks earlier, another Cabinet minister, Evarist Bartolo, had also told the inquiry board about the ‘shadow government’ led by disgraced former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

And a few days ago, former Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech told the board that he believed that Schembri had too much power. He also said certain projects would be approved “in principle” by the Cabinet, but it later turned out that there was more to them.

The testimony given by Bartolo, Grech and Scicluna has also shed more light on the way in which Muscat dealt with the Panama Papers revelations, how he effectively told Cabinet that it did not have a say in the matter.

So yes, while some of these relevations might not be directly relevant to the terms of reference of the inquiry, they have shed more light on the way things were run until January of this year and have confirmed long-standing suspicions.

In view of this, there are two things that can be done. The first is to allow the public inquiry to take all the time it needs and keep digging. The second is for the ongoing inquiry to limit itself to its terms of reference but to have a second inquiry launched to look into the murky ways of the Muscat administration, with a particular focus on the former PM, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

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