The Malta Independent 16 April 2024, Tuesday
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Government members who pushed hospitals deal ‘have to assume political responsibility’ – Giglio

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 12 March 2023, 09:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

The people in government who came up with the idea for the hospitals deal in the first place, pushed it and backed it “definitely have to assume political responsibility”, PN Spokesperson for Home Affairs and Security Joe Giglio told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Last month, a court ruled that three hospitals that were being managed by Steward Health Care are to be returned to government control. Former Opposition Leader Adrian Delia won the court case against the 99-year emphyteutical concession agreement awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare, which was then taken over by Steward. On 24 February the court nullified all three contracts awarded in a damning ruling which described the deal as being “fraudulent”. The hospitals involved in the agreement were St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospital.


During an interview, Giglio said that political responsibility for the situation is on the government.

Asked to identify who in the government, specifically, should assume political responsibility, Giglio said: “According to (former Prime Minister) Joseph Muscat it was all discussed in Cabinet. This is what he has maintained. Now I don't know what was discussed in Cabinet, but those people who came up with this idea in the first place, who pushed it forward, who backed it, definitely have to assume political responsibility. It’s a flop.”

Asked what he believes the next steps should be, Giglio said the funds that were spent should be reclaimed. “It’s a lot of funds from our money. It's the taxpayers' money after all."

As for the ongoing investigations and the length of time they are taking, he said that “first and foremost there is an inquiry pending, which has been pending for too long”. Giglio emphasised that the inquiry wasn't instigated by the police commissioner, but it was instigated by civil society.

On the length of time of the inquiry, he said that the PN has, for a long time, been harping on the need to have ex officio magistrates who just deal with inquiries. “It is impossible for a magistrate, for instance, to preside over the rent regulation board one day, on Tuesday hold criminal sittings, on Wednesday civil cases, on Thursday try to cope with VAT cases and on Friday, if having time, work on the inquiry along with everything else. It’s not on.”

He said that Malta has part-time inquiring magistrates due to their workload doing other cases and thus can only spend a very small part of their time dedicated to inquiries. "We need ad-hoc inquiring magistrates with a staff, legislative setup and framework."

Asked about the need for further investigations, he said the PN has repeatedly been calling for this. The contract had lingering problems from day one, he said. “It was the independent media and Daphne Caruana Galizia who started coming out with stories about it."
"We were constantly harping on the fact that something was very fishy," he said, in reference to the hospitals deal. "You could smell a rat."

Giglio said that budget after budget, the government allocated more funds to the hospitals. “Whenever the Nationalist Party brought forward a motion for the contract to be reviewed, annulled, the government always voted against. Of course there is room for further investigation. What is saddening is that so much time had to pass for people to realise that this is very bad.” 

Giglio was asked about the Police Force, and in particular a statement he had made, that police officers are “overworked, overstretched, but definitely not overpaid".

“By overworked and overstretched I'm referring to the lack of numbers and resources within the Police Force.” This is an issue in various departments, he said. “In the circumstances the police in Malta, considering their limited resources, are doing a great job. But they are overworked as there aren't enough people to deal with the various reports that they have to deal with. They are overstretched as they have to try and cope with everything, and they are definitely not overpaid.”

Referring to the Domestic Violence Unit, he said there aren't enough officers to deal with the high incidence of domestic violence cases. “Now it could also be that our definition of domestic violence needs tackling (…) If I have an argument with my brother who happens to live in the same home it is considered to be domestic violence, and this is perhaps a bit stretched and perhaps needs to be tweaked a bit, but in the meantime this is what we have." The officers, he said, cannot cope with the workload.

He referred to the recent inquiry into the murder of Bernice Cassar, which found that the system failed her. “The report's conclusion found a lack of resources.”

There is another situation, he said. “When calls are made for new recruits to come forward, we never reach the numbers that we need or want, as people aren't attracted to joining the Police Force. Therefore, notwithstanding the numerous calls for new recruits, the numbers remain low. There are also many who leave the force. Why? Either because they find better pay, or they are burnt out, or are just so demotivated that they are fed up.”

Giglio said the first thing he would implement if he were Home Affairs Minister would be to address the conditions of work.

“You are not going to attract anyone to join unless they have decent conditions of work." 
"It’s not just a question of pay. Pay is one thing. But it's also about the conditions and the atmosphere within which they work. Some of our police stations today, most of them closing down and working via an intercom, do not have the correct ambience.”

He also gave an example involving Transport Malta officials. “We see transport officials on the roads doing a great job. They are employed with Transport Malta and have a function to play. If someone passes by and insults them, those transport officials will call the police to come and take over and deal with the situation. So the police officers would need to deal with the person who is insulting the transport officials and who most probably also opts to insult them. They would need to go back to the police station, file charges and prosecute in court. You know what... the Transport Malta officials are paid twice as much as the police constables doing that work.”

Training is also lacking, Giglio said, adding that this is something else he would address. “What became of the Police Academy. What kind of training are they receiving today? When I speak about training, it’s not just about explaining what a police officer does. The training that needs to be given is also on the importance of their role, done in such a way that they feel proud about what they are meant to be doing and about what is expected of them.”

There has been investment in the force, he said, highlighting the Financial Crimes Investigations Department that was built. “But speak to the people working there. Ask them if they are close to feeling totally burnt out and about how overstretched they are. These are some of the things one needs to immediately address, rather than waste time on inquiries which only confirm what we have been saying for such a long time.”

He said that the Commissioner of Police started his leadership of the Force on a good note. “But (the Commissioner) is now three years into this strategic plan and I do not believe that he has delivered upon the strong sense of expectation. The change, in my opinion, that he has brought about was not what we wanted or needed. I'm not speaking about the cosmetic changes such as the uniforms. But the change in mentality, the change in prosecutions, the change in taking the lead, the change in motivating police officers... in my opinion he slacked.”

Asked whether he still feels that the police aren’t going after the big fish, he said “of course. Everybody feels like that”.


The Attorney General

Asked whether the PN tends to only praise institutions when decisions go in its favour, but then seems to take an attacking stance against others like the Attorney General and the police, Giglio said he doesn’t agree with such a statement. “You should support all institutions that are doing their job and you have a duty to criticise and hold accountable those institutions that are not. In the case of the courts, they, notwithstanding the difficulties they have, deliver and they are doing what they are meant to do. Therefore you obviously have to praise and support them. But you cannot praise and support someone who completely abdicates from their responsibilities and does not do that which they are meant to do,” he said.

He said that the Attorney General has enormous powers of investigation, but “slept all along. The Attorney General has the power to ask for freezing orders, monitoring orders... (the AG's Office) did not raise a finger and has been called upon to do it, and has the legislative power and tools to do it”.

He said that in the past, before the position of State Advocate was created, the Attorney General had defended the State “in a way that was almost incredulous”.

"Here's another worrying statistic as far as the Attorney General is concerned – 90% of the cases that go to the European Court of Human Rights, where a private individual maintains that there has been a breach of their rights, which the Attorney General would have defended tooth and nail against, are lost by Malta (and won by the individuals). (...) Not even Turkey's statistics are as bad. That is the issue. Of course you need to criticise those institutions that do not work.”

He said that the PN has long been calling for the resignation of the Attorney General. "She's been there for a long time. This isn't a question of being new and finding your feet. Important reforms were carried out for her to be able to function better. Most of the hats she wore were taken away so that she could exclusively focus on prosecutions and investigations." There was investment in new offices and the recruiting of lawyers, he said, "but the results are not what one would expect".

Giglio was asked about the recent news that George Degiorgio was allowed out of prison to attend a baptism party, and whether there needs to be a change in policy when it comes to such requests.

In that case the procedure would have been as follows. An application would have been filed to the court, in the case where he still has a case pending, requesting the CCF director to exercise his discretion as to whether, in terms of the prison regulations, the request can be acceded to. The court can authorise the CCF director to exercise his discretion.” He said that the prison director would then decide what conditions to impose. “This procedure has been in place for a very long time.”

“Of course one also needs to be very sensitive when exercising this discretion. Therefore, rather than a question of changing procedure, I would appeal more to a question of paying much more attention when exercising that discretion.”

Asked if there should be any repercussions against the prison director for his decision, Giglio said: “No, it was a decision he took, but one needs to learn from this and make it a point to ensure that when this discretion is exercised, one is open to how delicate that situation can be. One always needs to keep in mind the victims and the situation they are going through. That would be my appeal, let’s do things properly as they should be done.”

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