Investigation must remain top priority

The effect of Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder on the public will be 'extraordinary'. 'Such is the nature of a crime against everything that makes us a decent and civilised nation'

'A part of our collective peace of mind was also assassinated on Monday October 16'
'A part of our collective peace of mind was also assassinated on Monday October 16'

A week after the brutal killing of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the initial shock has turned into anger and demands for political action. This is perfectly understandable.

The violent murder of any human being represents an affront to society as a whole. Our entire criminal law structure is indeed rooted in that same principle. But the cold-blooded murder of a journalist is also an assault on freedom of expression. It shocks more, because the intended target transcends the individual human being whose life was snuffed out. 

A part of our collective peace of mind was also assassinated on Monday October 16. The country feels less safe, and people rightly feel we should be questioning both how we got to this extraordinary pass... and, more specifically, what can be done about it.

It is also understandable that these sentiments would be expressed with a degree of emotional force. Enough post-mortems have been carried out in the press to confirm the extraordinary impact and influence Daphne Caruana Galizia had had on the country’s ‘formis mentis’ in her 30-year career. 

The effect of her murder on the public will inevitably also be extraordinary. Such is the nature of a crime against everything that makes us a decent and civilised nation.  

However, at this sensitive juncture all efforts have to be concentrated on the investigation itself. The priority now is to get to the bottom of this murder, uncover the people behind it, and expose the secrets they hold.  On no account must we allow popular sentiment – no matter how justified – to get in the way of the fundamental procedures to be followed.

First and foremost, the guiding principle is that the bereaved family deserves justice and closure, ideally, though in practice not likely, in the shortest possible time.

This would be true of any homicide, but the specific context surrounding this case makes final closure all the more urgent. Already, political accusations are flying on both sides of the political divide. There is every danger that Daphne’s murder may yet remain an open wound that will continue to torment this country’s conscience, like unsolved high profile murders of the past... such as those of Karen Grech, Lino Cauchi and Raymond Caruana.

To this end, it is imperative that the police are given all the resources possible, and the Prime Minister must be held to account on his pledge that no stone will be left unturned. But it is equally important that the public has full faith in the investigative process as a whole. The decision to involve international investigators was commendable, but will it suffice to quell serious doubts in the current state of the police force as a whole? 

One can understand the Prime Minister’s desire to defend local institutions in the face of local and international criticism, but we must also concede that public confidence in the criminal justice system is at a low ebb. This only aids and abets a culture in which criminality can be expected to flourish.

Discussions on the need for broader institutional change, on the other hand, can wait a little longer. This is not a discussion that started four years ago. Questions have long been raised by various individuals and organisations, including this newspaper, about the ability of our institutions to spearhead the necessary reforms... only to have their voices consistently shunted by a political class that always chooses to retain the status quo.

This status quo is, however, untenable, in the long term. We do need a national debate on meaningful Constitutional reform, if we are ever to rise out of the political and institutional impasse we are currently in. 

And this debate should go further than just how the police commissioner and AG should be appointed. In recent years, Malta’s entire social and economical infrastructure has gone through a radical transformation. Our national obsession with economic growth has in part blinded us to the consequences of this metamorphosis... among them, the increasing grip on our country by international criminal organisations.

It must be admitted that our institutional capability to respond to these challenges has not evolved sufficiently in recent years. We must also start thinking in terms of a permanent structure that can combat organised crime on an equal footing. If necessary, to create local equivalents for Italy’s Guardia di Finanza... beyond token institutions that exist in paper, but always prove toothless in reality.

Above all, we need the implementation of a rigorous and watertight system of checks and balances, to ensure that the separate arms of the state – the judiciary, the executive and the legislature – are indeed autonomous, and equipped to deal with issues like corruption and malfeasance. 

There is a lot of work to be done... but it must start with a thorough, transparent and above all effective investigation into a barbaric crime that traumatised the entire country.

At this stage, all other considerations fall into second place.