The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Opinion: The culture of impunity – one year on

Friday, 29 July 2022, 07:47 Last update: about 13 days ago

Kevin Aquilina

29 July 2022 marks the first anniversary since the publication of the report of the board of inquiry appointed disheartenedly by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to investigate into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

It also marks one whole year of inaction on the part of government to take concrete and effective steps to implement the main recommendations contained therein mainly addressed at its inaction.

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The culture of impunity that exists in Malta, ably identified by Judges Michael Mallia, Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro in their landmark report outlining grave wrongdoings at government level continues unabated, as though no inquiry was ever appointed and no corrective recommendations were ever proposed to government. During this year, we have been kept totally in the dark on the implementation of the report’s urgent and impelling recommendations and, therefore, it is logical to conclude that it has been conveniently swept under the carpet, more so because – after all – it is a damning report on government and its highest echelons.

To be fair to government, it did at one time state that the report’s suggestions would be addressed but, one year down the line, the status quo ante continues to prevail. All that hard work, time, effort and resources spent seem to have gone down the drain.

After the report was published, one would have expected government to provide a timely reaction to the findings, conclusions, and recommendations made therein, to explain which findings it disagreed with, which conclusions it was in tune with or otherwise, and which recommendations it would be adopting, which it would be ignoring, which it would be incorporating in part and, more importantly, why. But, so far, we have had none of this. The public does not appear to have a right to know what the government has been doing in the last year and what will it do next in relation to the inquiry report, apart from letting sleeping dogs lie.

Indeed, Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar, to his credit, had adopted a salutary practice of publishing a report on both the Ombudsman’s and Auditor General’s annual reports related to the civil service outlining where, and to what extent, the recommendations made by these two officers of the state were being implemented or not by government and how. This has, indeed, introduced an element of accountability within the civil service and, at least, the public is informed of the views of the civil service on these reports, irrespective of whether one agrees or not with the feedback provided by the head of the civil service or with the reports themselves. It also opens a channel of communication between the civil service and these two offices of state that should be conducive to a proper working of the civil service.

Sometime after the publication of the Caruana Galizia report, one would have expected Cabinet, through the Cabinet Secretary, to publish a Department of Information press release containing a detailed report on the same lines of those of the Principal Permanent Secretary as aforesaid and also detailing Cabinet’s plans as to how it intended to proceed on the matter. But the government, instead, has elected to exercise its right to silence, perhaps not to embarrass itself. It could be, after all, that we are expecting more than what we deserve to meet good governance standards.

In Malta, the accountability degree of board of inquiries’ reports is next to nothing. The bulk of them are not even published. Those that are may end up redacted in part and substantial erasures are carried out that sometimes makes them literally unintelligible. When the public is lucky to get its hands on a published board of inquiry report, it does not necessarily see its effective implementation taking place in a timely manner. The Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination board of inquiry report is a case in point.

Only God knows how many boards of inquiry reports have been written with no concrete action ever being taken by the public administration. This deserves an inquiry in its own right! Indeed, this is an area of Administrative Law that has not been developed adequately to reflect the modern principles of accountability, transparency, and good government. Perhaps because it is not in government’s interest to be honest with citizens and admit its failures. Perhaps government does not want to face the backlash that it will bring about or give the opposition a rod to beat it with. Perhaps government wants to avoid negative pr or does not want to blemish further its reputation.

By the way, this is not the only report that is gaining dust somewhere in a government office. The Bonello Commission report of 30 November 2013 submitted to the justice minister met the same fate when its most pertinent recommendations disliked by government for purely political partisan reasons fell by the wayside.

One thus augurs that, belatedly, one year after the publication of the Caruana Galizia report, its recommendations are honoured to the full. Prime Minister, it is never late to do the good thing.

 

Kevin Aquilina is Professor of Law at the Faculty of Laws of the University of Malta

 

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