Blurred vision

A new Constitution should focus on a higher constitutional role for the President…  and the President should not worry about such things as fundraising

There are many moments that can appear blurred to news junkies. Those who aren’t don’t tend to read much or all we write, perhaps referring too blithely to Facebook as their first source of news.

The comments by the former police inspector Jonathan Ferris today concern allegations by the Russian whistleblower Maria Efimova, who have both been championed by Nationalist MPs and MEPs like David Casa. Today Ferris is quoted denying allegations by Efimova – whom he investigated when Pilatus Bank accused her of misappropriation of funds – that during that interrogation, officials from Pilatus Bank were present.

Efimova is largely credited with having being one of the sources of the allegation that the secret Panamanian company Egrant belonged to the Prime Minister’s wife, and is now in detention at a Greek prison after turning herself in: there are two arrest warrants issued by the Maltese law courts, namely for her to testify in the two criminal cases opened against her in Malta. One of the EAWs concerns the charge of false accusations she made against Maltese police officers, including Ferris, who investigated her on the misappropriation charge.

I don’t know whether to call this a typical Spanish omelette of a story, for those who lionise both Ferris and Efimova over their respective roles as (former) FIAU investigator and Pilatus whistleblower, might be in a quandary.

Some want to promote the narrative that Efimova could risk being murdered if she returns to Malta, a suggestion intent on making Malta out to be some kind of Wild West. They seem to insinuate that the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was linked to the Egrant affair, that it somehow had the backing of Joseph Muscat. It is a shocking theory, probably one that is not believed by most of the Maltese population, but which is easily and conveniently fanned by the international press as an engaging storyline to the brutal murder of the journalist.

The truth is that the Greek courts, who must hear Efimova’s defence against the EAWs, might probably be obliged by European law to respect these EAWs. However, even when Efimova arrives in Malta, she will be here to appear in court only on the two cases related to the arrest warrants and nothing else. The law precludes the authorities to interrogate her on other subjects, such as the Egrant affair for example.

The other point is that it is probable that she will not be incarcerated by the authorities but simply asked to sign in at a police station.

As it happens, Efimova has already testified before Magistrate Aaron Bugeja in the Egrant investigation, and it seems the hard evidence on the declaration of trust was not provided. Since then, the magistrate has carried out extensive investigations to exhaust all possible avenues of inquiry. My sources believe that nothing yet has been found to nail the case down. Whether the conclusion of the inquiry is a question of procrastination is another matter altogether.                                           

In the discussions on a proposed reform of the Maltese Constitution we have been reading numerous ideas but if there is one topic which surely needs revisiting it is the role of the President.

As things stand today, the President of the Republic has become an extended social security department with a clear policy to reach out to the needy and the less fortunate, apart from raising money from the private sector to dispense openly to cancer victims and to those who are in need of financing, including the regiments of fragmented NGOs.

A new Constitution should focus on a higher constitutional role for the President… and the President should not worry about such things as fundraising

Needless to say, this has reached a tipping point with the present presidency. Part of the arrangement between Joseph Muscat and Marie Louise Coleiro was for the latter to be able to continue with her policy to work for the underprivileged and moreover create a parallel organisation to that of State-funded social welfare agencies.

It is a very big shame that we have come to this. Why should the President of the Republic be a glorified Mother Theresa? The truth is that none of the presidents, possibly with the exception of Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, ever truly understood the role of the presidency.

Most of the presidents get personally involved in the upkeep of the President’s assets from the cutlery to the colour of the curtains and the use of the gardens. In the nature of things, the micro-management of the presidential office and palaces has never been streamlined to an effective and clear-minded CEO.

This President has surely rallied awareness about the less privileged but in doing so has no left no lasting legacy. Like some other presidents Marie Louise Coleiro Preca has indulged in expenses which are not clearly divulged to the public and surely much higher than anticipated.

My requests for some transparency in the way money has been spent by the President have been ignored month after month.

So perhaps, it is high time that we ask ourselves how we envisage the office of the President in the future. Undoubtedly the President should not be the landscape artist for the President’s garden or the chair of the Community Chest or the host for the annual l-Istrina charity.

A new Constitution should focus on a higher constitutional role for the President and a clear definition of his or her role, including those functions that the President should not worry about, such as fundraising.

The need to safeguard the emarginated in society is an obligation of the State. If all our agencies worked perfectly – and many of them do – it would be sufficient for them to offer a solid welfare backup. And if the State wants, it could easily see to it that most people are covered for a wide-ranging service for cancer treatment. And this is already happening in most cases.

We need to get our priorities in order, avoid the overlap of resources and do away with mediocrity at the highest of our institutions.