The Malta Police Commissioner-for-Europe Show

I can only conclude that my appraisal of Lawrence Cutajar’s actual importance in the scheme of things must have been as far

off-track as my sense of time

OK, so in my last article I promised I was going to write about Malta’s selection process for Police Commissioners this Sunday. And you might be thinking: hang on a second… what the heck is so ‘Christmassy’ about that?

The short answer, of course, is ‘nothing at all’. But when I made that commitment (i.e., last Tuesday), it hadn’t yet occurred to me that ‘Christmas Day’ was going to be the day after tomorrow. In fact, I’ve only just found out it’s the 21st today. I could have sworn that it was still the eleventh only yesterday: which means that, by my reckoning, today should really be… hang on a sec while I open up my online calculator… the 12th. So my biological clock must be off by around… um… let’s just say, a whole bunch of days. How the heck did that even happen?

Only two possibilities spring to mind. (Actually, three: there’s also the one about me being a bit of a twit sometimes… but I imagine you all worked that out for yourselves a long time ago). One, I might suffer from a mild form of numerical dyslexia, which causes me to read numbers back-to-front. It explains why I mistook ‘21’ for ‘12’…. and possibly also why I have never actually managed to get through to anyone on the telephone in my entire life, even once. (I mean, it’s a bit difficult to get the hang of all this new-fangled technology, when you were actually born in the year 1791…)

Two… you know how they say that “time flies when you’re having fun”? Well, I must be enjoying myself so goddamn much these days, that three whole weeks flashed by in what felt like only a few hours. And if I carry on at this rate, why, I’ll be 49 in no time when all… when I’m only 74 today.

So that’s one New Year’s Resolution already in the bag: I must try and figure out what it is I’m having so much fun doing these days… and do a little less of it, so maybe time would start flying by at a somewhat more reasonable speed.

All the same, however: a promise is a promise (and my fingers were on the keyboard, so they couldn’t have been crossed). Now, I know how much this is going to disappoint you all out there…. having spent no less than 563 days since last year, eagerly anticipating my traditional, soppy ‘message for the Christmas season’ sort of article.

For that’s another thing they say: ‘Christmas is the season to inexplicably transform into some kind of pious, po-faced, moralistic little twerp’ (but only for the duration of the festive season: after that, everyone goes right back to being a jerk as usual). You know, reminding everyone about the ‘true spirit of Christmas’ (sick bags are stowed beneath your seats); and how important it is, at this time of year, to also ‘reflect on those who are more needy than you’ (especially while ordering the next round at the bar: I happen to be ‘needy’ of a little Christmas spirit myself, if you catch my drift…)     

But painful as it is to have to disappoint so many faithful readers… there will be no Christmas moralising this year. At least, not from me. So the selection of Police Commissioners it is (and let’s look on the bright side: it’s something so many of you have been whining and moaning about all year round anyway).

I can only conclude that my appraisal of Lawrence Cutajar’s actual importance in the scheme of things must have been as far off-track as my sense of time

As you might remember, the latest entity to join this chorus of ‘tut-tuts’ and ‘tsks-tsks’ was the Council of Europe: which issued a report lambasting our present system of ‘appointment by the Prime Minister’, and instead recommending that we choose our Police Commissioners by ‘some form of public competition’.

Naturally, I think that’s an absolutely fabulous idea... I mean, who wouldn’t? Public competitions are a lot of fun. And for a change, the fun and games wouldn’t be limited only to a handful of powerful politicians or industry moguls: no, in the true spirit of democracy, we’d all get a chance to participate… by televoting, for instance. But we’ll get to the details soon enough.

First, however, let us ask ourselves why the Council of Europe doesn’t extend such a fascinating concept to the selection criteria for ALL the commissioners, presidents, directors, chairpersons, executive managers (or whatever) of all the world’s most powerful political, financial and industrial giants. If a ‘public competition’ is the right and proper way to go about making that sort of appointment… why reserve the best system possible only for Maltese Commissioners? Isn’t that a bit unfair on all other international institutions… including, naturally, the Council of Europe itself?

Take the International Monetary Fund, for instance: part of the so-called ‘troika’ that contributed so much to the evisceration of the Greek economy in recent years. I think it’s fair to say that their policies and decision can have pretty serious, real-world consequences on the countries they affect; yet you never hear any suggestions to change the fact that “the IMF’s 24-member Executive Board is responsible for selecting the Managing Director” (to quote from its homepage): and even then, according to its own internally established selection criteria.

Yet when it comes to Malta’s Police Commissioner – whose actions or decisions have no effect whatsoever on anyone at all, beyond the not-so long arm of Maltese law – suddenly, our equally non-transparent and undemocratic appointment system somehow becomes a ‘threat to democracy’.

I can only conclude that my appraisal of Lawrence Cutajar’s actual importance in the scheme of things must have been as far off-track as my sense of time. He must be a truly world-renowned, global potentate of pan-galactic proportions, to deserve more urgent attention from the Council of Europe than the movers and shakers of Europe itself…

All the more reason, then, that we select our Commissioners with greater care in future. I mean, we wouldn’t want our choice to accidentally precipitate an international financial crisis, and threaten the entire fabric of Western civilization as we know it… now would we?

But the question remains. ‘Public competition’. What sort of contest would be suitable for judging the capabilities of a potential Maltese Commissioner of Police? The first step, I suppose, would be to determine what those capabilities actually are. And it’s a little tricky, seeing as how Maltese Police Commissioners are appointed behind closed doors to begin with…. and unlike other police jurisdictions elsewhere, are never (or very, very rarely) called upon to give any public account of what they do… to respond to criticism, for instance, or give updates on important cases.

So I’m guessing that ‘keeping a low profile’ has to be high on the selection criteria list. Contestants would have to exhibit deftness and ingenuity in dodging the attention of nosy journalists, and demonstrate their proficiency at giving evasive, non-committal answers to very direct, specific questions.

And judging by the performance of all Malta’s recent Police Commissioners to date… or at least the ones I remember: which means five in the past four years… other abilities might include the skillful failure to ever investigate cases pointing in blatantly political directions; the inclusion of the Office of the Prime Minister in all the Police’s major decisions and internal deliberations; and the ability to swiftly and suddenly resign without forewarning, when your responsibility entails having to actually investigate a government minister on criminal grounds.

Clearly, that sort of person doesn’t grow on trees. So a priori, we can discount any ‘public competition’ that involves random selection processes. No lotteries or raffles, for instance. And no ‘spin the bottle’, either…

I was almost about to give up in despair, when suddenly it hit me. Why do not do what everyone else is doing anyway… and just cash in on the Council of Europe’s brainwave? And what’s the most successful cash-in programme in Malta right now (confirmed by Broadcasting Authority statistics this week)?

The X-Factor, naturally. After all, why limit ourselves to a ‘public competition’, when you can also make a whole ‘international multi-billion franchise’ out of it, too (while also ‘strengthening democracy’ in the process, blah blah?).

It would start with the auditions stage. Prospective wannabe ‘Malta Police Commissioners’ would have to undergo live, televised grillings by a panel of celebrity judges composed of former high-ranking police veterans: a sort of ‘good, bad cop’ routine… so we can all have our favourite judges as well as contestants.

As per the rules of the competition, each contestant would have to also provide a reasonably plausible, personal sob-story… to both maximise their own chances and boost’s the show’s popularity among the ‘South American Telenovela’ viewer-bracket. You know… like when Lawrence Cutajar visited Simon Schembri in hospital, and then said he “cried in silence afterwards, but his words gave me the courage I needed to continue my work…”

Now that’s the sort of stuff today’s television public want to see. That’s what will get those ratings up and away, past Xarabank, and into the great infinity beyond. For this is no longer just about selecting someone to ensure the smooth running of operations at the Malta Police Force, or anything of the sort. Oh, no. This is show-biz. We don’t just want to ‘appoint’ Police Commissioners. We want to get under their skin; to discover what makes them tick as human beings. What football teams do they support? Are they as grumpy as everyone else before their first morning coffee? Do they prefer their traditional Maltese rabbit stewed or fried? With chips or mashed potatoes…?

As for minor, secondary issues – such as, say, whether they can identify and arrest three suspects of a brutal murder within less than four months – well, let’s not get lost in trivialities. Going only on the Council of Europe’s rationale, it is the openness and transparency of the appointment that matters… not the results.

And there is no selection process in the world more ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ than a televised, public entertainment variety show viewed by millions worldwide, is there? So without further ado – for time is money, folks… and it’s just zooming right past us, faster than we can all rake it in – it’s time to play the music, light the lights, and get things started on the international, most theatrical, quite fantastical, hardly practical… this is what we call the….

‘Malta Police Commissioner- for-Europe Show’. Televoting lines are now… open.

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