‘Politics pollutes policing’

Let’s face it: a state cannot be defined as ‘normal’ if it allows politics to impede the police from investigating serious crimes. But at least, we do now have a clear blueprint for how to attain that elusive ‘normality’, once and for all

It’s not often that I use a quote from another article as a headline: but… well, just look at it for a moment, will you? Let it sink in, phoneme by phoneme. Allow it to allure you with its almighty alliteration… be mesmerized by its measured metre… and while you’re at it, also pause to ponder the precision and profundity of its problematic proposition…

In all likelihood (note: I was tempted to write ‘probably’ there, but let’s not get too carried away) not even Shakespeare would have been able to cram so much truth, so poetically, into so few words.

Yet they were actually written by Mary Mifsud: a former police inspector who now lectures at the University of Malta… and who therefore might know a thing or two more than Shakespeare – or most other people, including you and I – about the internal operations of the Malta Police Force.

To place those words in their proper context, Mifsud was explaining how she usually replied to questions (at international police conferences) about why Malta had changed Police Commissioners six times in seven years.

Here’s the full quote… which sounds almost like the introductory voice-over narration of a detective movie:

“Dreaded politics. Red investigating Red. Doesn’t happen easily, it takes some real police guts as no one wants to create a Red Inferno and have it on your CV.

It’s much easier to run. ‘Coraggio, fuggiamo’.

In the past we’ve had Blue investigating Blue, and Blue investigating Red. Technically, Red investigating Blue should come easy now, but apparently not. Politics pollutes policing, full stop.”

And there you have it, (almost) straight from the Force’s mouth. Not, mind you, that we really needed any confirmation that it’s ‘much easier to run’ than to ‘create a ‘Red Inferno’. In recent years, the evidence of our own eyes and ears has clearly illustrated that beyond any doubt.

We have seen how the police always prove overwhelmingly reluctant to ever investigate politicians (or their proteges) for their possible involvement in crime.

Suffice it to say that four years after evidence emerged of possible corruption in Malta’s energy sector, there has still not been any thorough criminal investigation of the Panama revelations.

Some Police Commissioners ‘ran’, others ‘ate rabbit’ – in so doing, adding renewed relevance to that ancient political anthem, ‘Run, Rabbit, Run’ – but the result was always the same: no action.

Not even the more recent arrest of Yorgen Fenech for Daphne’s murder – which, with hindsight, can be seen to be connected to the same corruption scandal – has made any real difference.

The politicians involved in that deal remain as untouchable as ever, despite everything that has happened in the last few months.

Meanwhile, the same criticism has also been levelled at the Vitals hospital takeover… as well as the alleged involvement of Keith Schembri in an attempt to cover Yorgen Fenech’s tracks, by passing on information about the ongoing murder investigation.

Ah, but ‘politics pollutes policing’ in other, far more insidious ways.

After all, Mary Mifsud was not moved to write her piece by any specific cases involving political impunity.

No, she was responding to recent revelations which suggest that the situation within the Force may actually be far more… sordid.

What started out as an internal police sting against a fraudulent overtime racket within the Traffic section, seems to be now snowballing into something much more sinister and pervasive: something Mifsud describes as a “mafia-style racket, which includes extortion and silencing, indicating a whole barrel of rotten apples […]”

If media reports are anything to go by, the police have now extended the internal investigation from traffic police to “everyone from the Rapid Intervention Unit (RIU) and beyond”… and the list of alleged crimes has outstripped the original overtime fraud, to include fuel theft and (much more distressingly) “[forcing] women to trade sexual favours in return for forgiving traffic fines.”

The precise extent of this rampant abuse of power remains to be seen – at the risk of stating the obvious, it would be unfair to tar the entire Force with the same brush - though we have already been given an ominous hint: “just wait for the racket proceedings to start and a seriously grim picture to emerge, if they’re ever held in public.”

Given that one internal investigation has already resulted in the arrest of over half the traffic section… we can only wonder how much of our Police Force will even be left, when (or if) the rest of it is passed through the same shredder.

But how much of this apparent nosedive in standards is directly down to politics… and how much to plain old negligence and maladministration? Admittedly, it is not a question that can be answered mathematically.

Mifsud herself has a stab at it: “The police as an institution never exists on its own: if the ‘field’ is rotten, then have a really good look at the ‘habitus’ – governance outside of police headquarters.”

Significantly, she draws a link with the distant 1980s: “The racket is truly a throwback to the Lorry Sant days…” And from this perspective, the situation inherited by Abela does indeed start resembling the one Eddie Fenech Adami found himself in, when becoming Prime Minister for the first time in 1987.

Then as now, the police were in a shambles… indeed, the full charge sheet against it at the time (which included at least one murder within the depot itself) makes today’s allegations look rather lame.

In any case, Fenech Adami had to take a crucial political decision: whether to throw the entire book at the police over its excesses in the 1970s/80s (in which case, Malta would have been left without any functional Police Force at all); or whether to make a few notable examples (eg, prosecuting the former Police Commissioner), and try to rebuild the Police Force from within.

Either way, it is clearly an indictment of the polluting effect of politics, that a similar decision may now befall Abela more than 30 years later.

So the question still stands: did we even need a former police inspector to inform us of what we all already knew: i.e., that something is seriously (but seriously) rotten in the Floriana Depot?

I would say that… perhaps we did, yes. For it does make a small difference when the reality of our collective perceptions is finally confirmed by someone ‘in the know’… someone who can not only see the ‘elephant in the room’ that is invisible to the rest of us… but also smell the steadily rising mountains of elephant-poo it invariably produces (and which now has to somehow be cleaned up).

Technically, Mifsud’s article might not qualify as an act of ‘whistleblowing’ – the author no longer being within the police force, and all that – but it still stands out as a rare attempt to break the culture of omerta’ within the police corps itself: a culture whereby (in her own words) “whistleblowing is anthropologically criminal: it breaks all codes of silence.

It’s loyalty at all costs and omertà, another two mafia red flags…”

So, unlike what generally happens when the same criticism comes from the independent media (i.e., not a damn thing), it cannot be so lightly ignored when coming from such a well-placed, authoritative source.

Simply put, the events of the week mark a tipping point beyond which no one can realistically pretend that the problem simply doesn’t exist at all…  as Prime Minister Robert Abela seems to be implying, with his comment this week that ‘Malta has gone back to normality’.

Let’s face it: a state cannot be defined as ‘normal’ if it allows politics to impede the police from investigating serious crimes. But at least, we do now have a clear blueprint for how to attain that elusive ‘normality’, once and for all.

Abela himself is in a perfect position to achieve it, too. For whatever political considerations have so far prevented the police from investigating certain crimes, should no longer be an issue after the recent changes in administration.

So he can easily dispel the perception that ‘politics pollutes policing’… by simply ensuring that the police have all the freedom from political interference they need to function properly.

That way, if we really were living in the ‘state of normality’ envisaged by Robert Abela… the results would surely speak for themselves.

The trouble, however, is that – beyond those 40 arrests, which were non-political anyway – I’m not actually seeing very much in the way of results at all…

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