Three commissioners, one exception

The Police Commissioner’s inaction is causing great harm to the Police Force

Commissioner of Police Lawrence Cutajar
Commissioner of Police Lawrence Cutajar

On Wednesday, Malta was a nation in mourning. Social media was awash with the news that the Gozo Azure Window had collapsed. People grieved what many considered to be part of their national identity. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition tweeted their heartfelt condolences. Their tweets were retweeted by their faithful supporters. Foreign online news portals too reported that the Malta Azure Window was no more. 

In a way, it was heartening to see the grief that its collapse brought amongst the inhabitants of these islands. At least, not all is lost and people still seem to care about their country’s heritage. But, it is surreal too. Because whilst grieving the collapse of the Azure Window, we continue to destroy what is left of our countryside. Fertile land is daily buried under tonnes of concrete to make way for unattractive apartments.

Pristine land in St Julian’s has been given at a ridiculously low price to the DB Group. Fertile land in Marsascala’s Zonqor has been awarded to a Middle Eastern businessman. The Prime Minister is on record stating that it took him less than half an hour to decide handing the Zonqor land to the Sadeen Group. Last week, a local Sunday newspaper reported that an application has been submitted for the development of an industrial zone in Bidnija. 

I don’t doubt the Prime Minister’s disappointment at the loss of the Azure Window. But it stops there. He doesn’t give a toss to the loss of the few green spaces left in Malta and Gozo. If he did, he wouldn’t be handing pristine land on a silver plate to dubious investors. As for the Azure Window, it’s time to let go. Hopefully, its demise serves as a much needed wake up call to realize that whilst nature reclaimed the structure, the few remaining green spaces in Malta and Gozo are being destroyed by the greed of a handful of dubious, shady investors aided and abetted by our sheer indifference.

Get back the peoples’ land

Simon Busuttil should declare that a new Nationalist government would tear to shreds the transfer of land agreement between the government and the DB Group. In the meantime, a class action should be filed by the people of Malta to reclaim back their land. The DB Group saw red when Simon Busuttil declared that his party would ask the Auditor General to investigate the deal that the group reached with the Labour government.

The Group’s CEO, Arthur Gauci sent an SMS to the Opposition leader asking for the return of donations that the Group gave to the Nationalist party. (In a tongue-in-cheek, but spot-on comment, Dr Frank Portelli posted, on his facebook page, that God forbid the DB Group was a blood donor). Of course, the Nationalist Party should speedily write a cheque to the DB Group, notwithstanding the fact that donations are not meant to be returned.

However, the likes of the DB Group do not see it that way. It probably never occurred to the DB Group that the Nationalist Party, which ‘benefitted’ from donations along the years, would have the gall to ask the Auditor General to investigate a deal they reached with the Labour government. By demanding ‘their’ (that’s how they see it, even though they no longer are – and the Nationalist party would be paying, not refunding, the DB Group when it complies with their demand) the beneficiaries of the St. Julian’s land told us that for them a donation means unconditional support from the party benefitting from their donations. Hundreds of people, including businessmen, donate money to NGOs, charity foundations, local clubs – especially band clubs, and political parties. Through their actions, they do not expect to buy silence. 

On the other hand, it’s high time that party finances are regulated, not least for transparency’s sake. The Giovanni Bonello Commission, appointed by the Nationalist Party to draft proposals on party financing was a step in the right direction which, admittedly, should have been done a long time ago. As for politicians, they need to choose well, not least their clients. But when the Labour party cried foul the moment the DB Group declared that it donated money to the Nationalist Party, it was being its usual self – fake and hypocritical. Labour refuses to register with the Electoral Commission and to come clean on donations received along the years. Joseph Muscat wants us to believe that his party received no donations from the business community, especially in the run up to the general election. Sleek electoral campaigns, as was the 2013 Labour electoral campaign, happen because they have the financial support of big business. So, when Labour party officials try to give the impression that it’s holier than thou, they are lying – with a straight face.

The Electoral Commissioner

Joseph Church was appointed by the Labour government to head the Electoral Commission. This week, he refused to answer questions by NET News when asked to confirm whether his Commission had accepted the Labour party’s request for ‘provisional registration’. Labour refuses to be registered with the Electoral Commission. All other political parties did. Asked why Labour refuses to comply and register with the Commission, Minister Edward Zammit Lewis referred journalists to Mr Church. But Mr Church hangs up on journalists, joining the league of government pawns, who include Police Commissioner Laurence Cutajar. At the time of writing, Thursday morning, the Electoral Commissioner maintains his silence.

The Police Commissioner

A fortnight ago, I called the Police Commissioner during my TV show, Iswed fuq l-Abjad. Mr Cutajar had ignored an invitation to be a guest on my show. I rang him up during the programme and, to his merit, he did not hang up. When I asked him why he failed to investigate Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, following recommendations by the FIAU to do so, Mr Cutajar cited the Police Act in his defence. The article cited by the Police Commissioner states that the Police cannot give information when the person/s in question are suspected of a crime, being investigated or in the process of being taken to court. Stop press. The following day, it was wall-to-wall coverage in our newspapers and portals that Mizzi and Schembri were ‘suspects, investigated or soon to be arraigned in court’.

The article cited by the Police Commissioner left no room for interpretation. However, the Police Force issued a press statement, through the government’s Information Office, stating that Mr Cutajar was ‘misinterpreted’. It boggles the mind. Now, it’s back to square one. The Police Commissioner refuses to investigate Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

I’m told that Laurence Cutajar is a good man. Admittedly, he does give me that impression. But he’s a pawn in the government’s hands. That is undisputed. If he weren’t, he would be investigating the Panama Papers scandal. If Mr Cutajar can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen. Rumours have it that his predecessor, Michael Cassar did precisely that. Sitting pretty, refusing to investigate and being, understandably, ripped to shreds by the media and public at large is not an option. His inaction is causing great harm to the Malta Police Force.

The Tax Commissioner

John Church and Laurence Cutajar should learn from Marvin Gaerty, Commissioner for Inland Revenue, on how he deals with grave allegations of wrongdoing and how he behaves when faced with questions from the press. Daphne Caruana Galizia reported that an Inland Revenue Department employee accompanied the DB Group chairman abroad for the latter to buy an expensive car. The DB Group was mentioned in the Panama Papers. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna had stated that the Inland Revenue Department is investigating individuals, and companies, mentioned in the Panama Papers.

If the details in Caruana Galizia’s blog are correct, we have an Inland Revenue employee rubbing shoulders with a representative of a group which he should be investigating. On Wednesday, I rang up Mr Gaerty and asked for his reaction. He was polite and to the point: He had sent for the employee in question and asked for a statement. That, he told me, would then be referred to his Permanent Secretary, (Alfred Camilleri) and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna. Mr Gaerty proved to be an exception to the Police Commissioner and the Electoral Commissioner. Unfortunately, the likes of Mr. Gaerty seem to be rare species within the government’s structures.

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

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