Domine Dirige Nos?

The real truth is that the Police Force is the ‘longa manus’ of the executive and it will never check the abuse of power being carried out by the administration of the day

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela (right) with Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela (right) with Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar

This is not the first time that I felt I had to write about the Police Force. I wrote about the police several times during the tenure of the previous administration because I always felt that there was something that jarred in the way the police force was run and the way it acted. In fact, even under the previous PN administration, the situation inside the force was so bad that many serious police officers were actually looking forward to retirement as soon as they qualified for a pension. 

Slowly but surely many valid police officers – most of them PN leaning – who were disgusted with the way the force was administered, left the force... leaving behind them a bevy of incompetent and/or rotten apples running the show. As it happened, many of these were Labour leaning. This happened before the 2013 election that saw Muscat being elected to power with an unprecedented majority. 

To be sure, every police force in the world includes a number of rotten apples and this is not a case of echoing the popular wise words: ‘Yes, but not in Malta’. The attraction of rotten apples to join the force (or of rotting after joining the force) is inherent in the very nature of the work of the police anywhere all over the world. Malta cannot be an exception.

The 2013 change in government brought about a change in the police force as well. Unfortunately I can only conclude that this change was from bad to worse.

Recently the police force has been in the news for the wrong reasons. 

The current outbreak of car bombs, probably the result of turf wars within Malta’s organised crime set-ups – allegedly to get rid of rivals or to settle old scores – has left the police force in a quandary. No surprise that this newspaper last Sunday quoted an unnamed ‘senior police official’ saying that Malta’s police force must be equipped with better intelligence capabilities, if it is to get a grip on the organised crime that could be behind the spate of car bombs.

Meanwhile the recent visiting MEP delegation searching for answers on money laundering, Panama and what have you, queried the lack of serious police investigations and action when these were indicated. 

Speaking via a telephone call during a NET TV programme last Wednesday, the current Police Commissioner ‘confirmed’ that the Police are investigating Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri, regarding the companies they had set up in Panama. The Commissioner quoted the law that prohibits the Police from revealing details regarding any investigations that are being carried out. Later he said he was misinterpreted and that “no reasonable suspicion had resulted of a serious criminal action that could lead to a police investigation.”

The real truth is that the Police Force is the ‘longa manus’ of the executive and it will never check the abuse of power being carried out by the administration of the day. Even worse, the administration of the day influences unduly the police force regarding certain decisions it takes in the course of its duties. This is today much more evident than it was under the Gonzi administration, when there was interference in the duties of the Police force as well; although carried out less frequently and more subtly and more intelligently.

This newspaper’s revelation that in 2013 there was political interference in a drug trafficking case that involved changing the statement made by a person so that a very serious crime was watered down – with one person being charged simply with possession of drugs and another two persons going scot free – has continued to show the incredible mess the police force is in today.

The Prime Minister quickly appointed a practising lawyer (rather than a sitting or retired judge as is usual) to head an inquiry into the allegations. He had no alternative, really. The story is too serious and detailed to be quashed by some perfunctory denial. Yet the political background of the appointed lawyer has also led to some querying the seriousness of this inquiry. I sincerely hope it will not be yet another whitewashing exercise.

The sad truth is that the ‘independence’ of the Police Force was always inexistent as the force has always been subject to political interference. Originally it was the colonial master calling the shots for the benefit of the British Empire. After independence it became our own government’s turf.

Simon Busuttil hollering that he has no faith in the present Police Commissioner and that he will fire him as soon as he is in power is almost ludicrous, were the current situation not so tragic. With one notable exception, since Independence every change of the party in government brought about a change in the Police Commissioner. The only exception was the 1996 Labour administration led by Alfred Sant who managed to resist for some 22 months the internal pressures he had to sack George Grech and appoint another person in the post. If the Sant administration had lasted the full five year term, I doubt if Grech would have survived.

The truth is that although no Leader of the Opposition has ever said that he will fire the Police Commissioner on being elected to power, this is the expected norm! Openly threatening the Police Commissioner with being fired does not provoke him to do his duty, but only to behave more as the administration’s puppet. 

The motto of the Police Force is ‘Domino Dirige Nos’ (Lord direct us). The problem is that the ‘Domino’ is the government of the day! Remember, the Prime Minister can appoint and fire Police Commissioners at will.

There is only one way that could lead the country out of this mess: make the Police Commissioner post one requiring a two thirds approval by Parliament for appointment as well as for removal. I believe that the PN is in favour of such a change in the Constitution. 

Pushing for the positive effects of such a change will earn Simon Busuttil more brownie points than screaming that the present incumbent deserves to be fired. Not that he does not, of course.

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