Jailhouse rock: calls for Camilleri resignation more than justified

The legal process ignores completely the feelings and emotions of relatives and loved ones of victims of crimes or fatal accidents, while the magisterial inquiry is being pursued

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri

Many have wondered how and why Robert Brincau, the prison director, was not suspended when he was accused in Court for a range of offences including injuring a man and carrying a gun without a licence. The result of this incredible political faux pas was that for a small period of time, between the court verdict and his resignation, Malta had a prison director who had been given a 12-month jail term suspended for three years.

The responsibility for the decision not to suspend Brincau when he was faced with a serious charge in Court rests solely with the responsible minister, Byron Camilleri, and calls for his resignation are more than justified in the circumstances.

The normal practice in cases when a civil servant is charged in Court with some crime is for the Public Service Commission (PSC) to suspend the civil servant – with half-pay – until the judgement of the Courts. Subsequently the persons concerned are either reinstated in their original position or dismissed from the civil service depending on whether they were found guilty or not. The PSC also monitors and takes decisions on cases of discipline within the civil service when these are not of a criminal nature.

I am not one who thinks that this constitutional safeguard to prevent direct political interference in the running of the civil service actually works in a satisfactory manner. Indeed the system has been corrupted in many ways. But without the PSC, political interference is even more possible. It was thought that the PSC was needed so that in their relations with civil servants, ministers would not be able to run their remit in ways to suit their own personal political ambitions besides those of their party. That is exactly what they actually do when the PSC has no remit on the employees of state bodies that are outside the civil service structure, such as the employees of the Correctional Services Agency – that is not a government department!

This is why Minister Byron Camilleri could opt to ignore the normal procedure adopted by the PSC, and leave the prison director in his post until he was found guilty by a Court of law. This also means that the political responsibility for this farce lies solely at the minister’s door.

The problem is that the State no longer sets up new government departments and the influence of the civil service in the established departments has waned considerably, with the State setting up structures that do not fall under the civil service umbrella.

We now have a plethora of corporations, authorities, foundations, agencies, boards and state-owned limited liability companies whose employees do not fall under the aegis of the PSC. These bodies were set up outside the civil service structure in the name of efficiency.

I must say that different goverments have found it convenient to push their policies through these bodies for various reasons – some of which do make sense. But within these ‘alien’ structures, there is no one to rein in even the most obscene political abuses in employment, promotions and discipline.

Today there are probably more people employed with these state bodies than within the civil service itself.

When Malta became independent in 1964, there were practically no such state structures. I can recall that after 1964, the Electricity Board was set up, primarily to facilitate a subsidised loan from foreign sources. The Electricity Board was later incorporated in Enemalta Corporation.

This is the reason why there are no Constitutional provisions to regulate employment with these state bodies. This leads to unnecessary jobs with these bodies that Ministers create from thin air, as if they are conjurers. Today many of these bodies today suffer from an unnecessarily bloated employment figures because of this political abuse, for which the people of Malta are paying through their taxes.

This abuse must be checked. It has become an urgent and serious problem that certainly merits revisiting the Constitution.

Will any political party have the courage to take the first steps?

Still in the dark

Last Wednesday The Times carried a story about the former fiancée of a foreign man who died in a traffic accident in Malta being left in the dark for three months as regards what caused the accident and what steps are going to be taken against anyone responsible for what happened.

This type of story is not uncommon.

When such accidents happen everything seems to stop until the Magistrate’s inquiry is finalised, although I understand that when there is an obvious flouting of the law, the police can start proceedings in Court before the Magistrate’s inquiry is concluded.

The legal process ignores completely the feelings and emotions of relatives and loved ones of victims of crimes or fatal accidents, while the magisterial inquiry is being pursued. Surely, this is not right. Even so, victims tend to push and jump the gun, while the legal process has to view the facts of the case in a detached manner.

The problem with this system is that, more often than not, the authorities do not follow up the grief of those who lose their loved ones. It is no wonder that they feel abandoned and ignored – something that exacerbates their grief at a point in time when this adds to their misery.

But should the process necessarily ignore the predicament and the emotional state of the relatives of victims of crime or fatal accidents? I do not think so. They should be allowed to voice their take on the accident and be assured that the process is meant to seek justice and not to ignore them.

The issue of how magisterial inquiries are held crops up. It is a fact that magistrates have many other duties and responsibilities besides carrying out inquiries, something that many people do not appreciate enough. Many think that magistrates who are asked to pass judgement in the inferior courts should be different from magistrates who are responsible for inquiries. This is a moot point that should be studied thoroughly.

The way magisterial inquiries are carried out does not give any space for affected parties. In today’s world, this sounds callous.