Letters: 28 December 2014

The Ifeanyi Nwokye death: Former Home Affairs Minister replies

I refer to the articles entitled “Public was misled on disciplinary steps against Nwokye officers” and “My name is Ifeanyi and I am dead”, carried in the issue of “MaltaToday” of Sunday, 21 December, 2014 on pages 1 and 21 respectively.

These are the facts related to this case which are not portrayed clearly in your articles but which I had already stated in Parliament just a few minutes after the Prime Minister’s speech but which perhaps escaped you:

1. On 17 April, 2011, following the death of Ifeanyi Nwokye, the Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs issued a press statement informing the public that: 

a) an independent board of inquiry had been set up under Chapter 273 of the Laws of Malta;  

b) a Magisterial inquiry was being conducted so that the facts would be established and the evidence preserved, whilst; 

c) a Police investigation was also underway.

2. The next day, another press statement published the letter of appointment of the board setting out the terms of reference of the public inquiry which was to be led by Mr Martin Scicluna. (It would have been imprudent for Lt Col Brian Gatt to carry out the investigations since at the time he was the person in charge of the detention centres and the independent board of inquiry would also have to evaluate his position.) 

3. One of the board’s remits was :

“examining and establishing whether there had been negligence, whether the correct procedures had been followed, whether there had been abuse of authority on the part of any official/s of the Detention Services or any other officers involved in this incident”  

4. On 26 August, 2011, the report of the independent board of inquiry was submitted to the ministry. A press statement was subsequently issued on 13 October, 2011 when I resumed my duties in the ministry after undergoing major surgery at Mater Dei Hospital during September 2011. 

5. The report stated that disciplinary action against a number of officials should be taken: “Hemm lok għal passi dixxiplinarji kontra numru ta’ uffiċjali li kienu b’xi mod involuti fl-incident, għalkemm f’xi każi l-azzjoni ma tistax tittiehed qabel ma jkun magħruf l-eżitu tal-awtopsja tad-detenut li miet.” (This is ground for disciplinary action to be taken against a number of officials who were in some way involved in the incident, although in some cases the action cannot be taken before the conclusion is known of the autopsy conducted on the detainee who died.)

The board of inquiry also stated that since the magisterial inquiry had not been concluded and the result of the autopsy was not accessible to them, the report could not be conclusive on all points. The Times of Malta reported this on the following day in an item entitled “Board calls for officials to face discipline” where it is stated: “An inquiry board that probed the death of an illegal immigrant who was caught after escaping from the Safi Detention Centre last April, has called for disciplinary measures to be taken against a number of officials involved in the incident. But in “some cases” the action against officials cannot be taken until the autopsy results are released by the magisterial inquiry.”

6. As also stated in the press statement this report was passed on to both the  Commander of the Detention Services, Lt Col Brian Gatt, and the Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta, Martin Xuereb, wherein it was stated that: “L-awtoritajiet konċernati qed jikkonsidraw fid-dettal il-kummenti tal-Bord biex, fejn hemm lok jittieħdu passi dixxiplinari b’mod spedit mingħajr ma jiġu kompromessi proċeduri ulterjuri li jistgħu jirriżultaw mill-inkjesta Maġisterjali”. (The authorities concerned are considering in detail the comments of the Board so that, where there is ground, disciplinary steps will be taken expeditiously without compromising ulterior procedures which may result from the magisterial inquiry.)

One must here bear in mind that there is a strong legal opinion that if both disciplinary procedures and court criminal procedures are taken this could amount to double jeopardy which could result in the acquittal of the guilty party. Thus one had to make sure that criminal legal action could effectively be taken after the conclusion of the magisterial inquiry. If disciplinary action had been taken prematurely after the publication of the report it could have jeopardized the criminal procedure. 

7. So contrary to what both your articles are implying, I did not impede any action on the matter. The investigation on the death of Ifeanyi Nwokye was entrusted to the competent authorities to be carried out according to law, with the ensuing legal and disciplinary actions. 

8. Unfortunately, the magisterial inquiry led by Mag. Tonio Micallef Trigona took three years to be concluded and criminal action could finally be instituted against three persons according to the direction and instruction of the magisterial inquiry this February 2014.

9.   Please note that the Valenzia report as it is being referred to in the media was commissioned after the death of immigrant Mamadou Kamara, who died on 29 June, 2012 when I was no longer a minister and the immigration portfolio had then passed to the office of the Prime Minister.

10. Please also note that the Armed Forces of Malta were never part of my ministerial portfolio as you seem to imply.

All the above may be easily verified by your readers and journalists by accessing the DOI and Times of Malta websites.

I had imagined that people had already formed the opinion that the allegations made against me were bereft of any substance. In fact, no interest whatever was even alleged, let alone proven in a possible cover up for any person at all.

Finally if sticking to what is right, proper and according to the rule of law is considered by you as a sign of weakness, then our standards are completely different. You mentioned my being a religious person: I do not disown my beliefs and try to act according to the ethics of these beliefs. Furthermore I do not see any strength in proving a point by attacking the conduct of others.

Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici LL.D., M.P., Xghajra

Managing Editor, Saviour Balzan replies: Yes, our standards are entirely different. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici’s fault lies in his strong – albeit warped – beliefs and I quote his words: “If disciplinary action had been taken prematurely after the publication of the report it could have jeopardized the criminal procedure.”

This thinking is the major difference between what we in the media believe and our political class. Which continues to act, believing that public officials or public officers facing allegations of misconduct need not resign or accept to resign pending investigations or inquiries.

There is also the principle of ‘on my watch,’ which it appears both Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and politician Manwel Mallia fail to appreciate or even consider as an issue. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici argues in this way, of course, to counter the very serious declarations made by the Commander of the Detention Services, Lt Col Brian Gatt, in an inquiry, when he stated he had wanted to take disciplinary action and even dismiss the officers after they even refused to give him a statement, but he (Mifsud Bonnici) told him not to take action, saying police investigations were still underway.  

Malta Industrial Parks on asbestos factory

Your articles in the print edition of MaltaToday as well as your website on Sunday, 21 December, and Monday, 22 December in relation to the Mriehel factory which had the presence of asbestos containing material (ACM) and was used illegally by MaltaFilm and James Vernon to film their music productions, contained serious inaccuracies to which MIP is issuing the following statement to clarify the matter:

1. Your articles give the impression that the factory in question was completely open and freely accessible to anyone. This is incorrect. The factory was properly locked, all gates were padlocked and one gate was even welded. In addition, concrete bollards were placed around the factory to prevent vehicles from entering the site and ‘No Entry’ signs were present around the site.

2.  Your article on the website of Monday 22nd states that ‘MaltaToday could not confirm whether the site was today cleared by professional workers or whether the workers took all health and safety precautions during the operation’. This is also incorrect. Your article on the 21st clearly states that a tender had been issued and awarded to a local professional company which has the necessary setup to handle such work. In addition you had already posed a number of questions to MIP. These were answered and MIP was continuously available for comment had you wished to clarify this prior to writing your article.

3. Your website article on Monday 22nd gives the impression that action was taken by MIP only because reports in the media appeared. This is again incorrect. A tender was issued by MIP earlier this year. The tender closed in July, was awarded in October and the contractor mobilised in October. MIP is expecting that final testing and certification works will start in the coming days and to have final certification showing that all the ACM has been properly disposed of by the end of January 2015. It should be noted that this issue had been dragging since 2008 and it is only this board of directors that took decisive action to address the situation.

4.  The action by MaltaFilm as represented by Joshua Cassar Gaspar and James Vernon is illegal and there is no excuse which justifies trespassing on private property.  MIP has already written to both individuals and is holding them collectively and personally responsible for any harm or damage caused to anyone involved. This without prejudice to any other action MIP deems it should take.

Joshua Zammit, Deputy Chairman & CEO, Malta Industrial Parks

Investor protection or business promotion: the MFSA dilemma

The MFSA chairman recently expressed the view that it is unreasonable to expect the regulator to prevent all failure. Information on the MFSA’s visits for the verification of compliance indicate that it is very unlikely that the MFSA will ever prevent a failure. 

The figures reported in the MFSA annual reports for the periods ending 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and other information published by the Authority, suggest that on average the MFSA carried out visits at the offices of fewer than 3.2% of the total population of entities licensed in terms of the investment services act.

At this rate, it would take the MFSA at least 33 years to visit all licence holders and this only if one assumes that there will be no growth in this sector. This is clearly not the reality.

While financial business has developed positively for Malta, thanks in part to the effort of MFSA chairman Joe Bannister, it is alleged that the MFSA has failed to implement changes to its supervisory resources to keep up with the growth in business. It appears that resources are more focused on business development instead of supervision for investor protection and financial stability. Albeit, the industry is complaining that even here the MFSA is failing to deliver, with major delays in the processing of plain vanilla applications for a licence. 

The reality is that the board of governors of the MFSA, who have the duty to ensure that the authority’s core functions are carried out properly, does not seem to be fulfilling its role of monitoring the activity and performance of the authority.

It is said that the board is made up of individuals who are either conflicted due to links with the industry, certain members of the board have directorships with the industry, or who are puppets in the hands of a chairman who is focused on business development and has limited interest in supervision.

To make matters worse, there is hearsay that certain members of the board of governors seem to be more focused on generating consultancy fees from the MFSA for professional services rather than to fulfill their role as governors on the board. This impinges on their independence of judgment and their ability to properly monitor the operations of the authority. This behaviour is unacceptable and should stop immediately.

The board of governors’ lack of proper monitoring and focus on investor protection and financial stability issues has resulted in failures such as la Valette, Maltese Cross, All Invest, MFSP and Setanta, the latter having a disastrous impact on Malta’s reputation as a financial centre of good standing. 

It’s time for change at the MFSA. The board should be dismissed and change should be implemented sooner rather than later if further disasters are to be avoided. 

The government should consider appointing a deputy chairman for regulation and supervision, who should be responsible for monitoring how work is being performed. This person should be independent, of strong character, high standards and not the usual ‘yes’ man. 

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance should act without further hesitation. 

Raymond Xuereb, Swieqi