Unabashed Mallia: ‘PN targets me to stop serving country’

Home Affairs Minister facing no confidence motion ignores political criticism

Despite a no confidence motion in his regard, Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia ignored the political criticism leveled against him by the Nationalist Opposition arguing that the PN were targeting him “to stop serving the country”.

During a speech of 65 minutes, Mallia dedicated a few minutes to the shooting incident involving his driver, Paul Sheehan.

Sheehan, a police constable suspended from both his ministerial and police duties, was arraigned in court accused of attempted homicide after shooting twice at Stephen Smith, 30, who allegedly hit the ministerial car and sped off. The Opposition has since been calling for Mallia’s resignation and has also accused the government of a cover-up. The matter is now before an independent inquiry to determine whether a cover-up took place.

Yesterday, MaltaToday and the Sunday Times of Malta revealed that bullet casings went missing from the site of where the shooting took place in Gzira while extracts of a police report pertaining to Smith’s arrest have been deleted.

Questions are now being raised on the possibility that the argument between Smith and Sheehan may have had nothing to do with a traffic incident but that the two may have known each other.

“Undoubtedly, the people are worried by the Sheehan incident and we have to ensure that similar incidents are not repeated. A lot was said on this case but there was also destructive criticism where I was accused of covering up the case. I asked no one to cover up what happened…but I will have enough time to talk about this during the motion,” a bullish Mallia said.

Mallia was referring to a no confidence motion presented by the Opposition. The motion calls on the Prime Minister to sack his minister. The PM has however insisted that the motion should be discussed after an independent inquiry is concluded. Led by retired judge Albert Magri and appointed last week, the inquiry had 15 days to conclude its investigation which should also be published by the government.

Mallia said that the shooting incident cast a shadow on the Police Force, insisting that the Opposition “was taking advantage of this to overshadow the budget”.

“Truth is that the government has presented a budget that promotes hard work. Yet, the PN is attacking me because they don’t want me to serve my country. I could have easily chosen to remain a lawyer because it is more profitable, but I wanted to serve my country. I am not in politics for the money.

“I was there with you in the 80s fighting abuse and violence and you can rest assured that, as the minister responsible of the disciplined forces, I will not let my country go back to those wrong times. I understand they want me out…I can think of several reasons.”

Unabashed of the criticism, Mallia told the PN MPs that they should know his credentials and their integrity and that he was convinced that “people distinguish between what happened and what I want to happen”.

Mallia said the Police Force was always the subject of controversy over the years. He said that 1997 reports laying out proposals to improve it were never implemented.

“Both former police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit and the Acting Police Commissioner agreed that the police force should be reorganized and discipline improved. We started by strengthening the relationship between the officers and the citizens and we must continue investing in their education and increase the training to fight modern crime,” he said.

Mallia added that the police force should have a media officer who is not a police officer. He said, that the police’s communications office had improved over the past months but further improvement was required to provide media and citizens with information on police work.

The minister said that, across the board, the disciplined forces had registered substantial budgetary increases as he reminded that the Labour government had given disciplined forces the right to join a union.

Earlier during the debate, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi said that two reports were lodged claiming theft of address after receiving a request from Identity Malta to collect the residence card of a Libyan citizen and another citizen from the Caucasus. The addresses belonged to Maltese citizens.

A period of residency in Malta for at least a year is required for applicants who want to obtain Maltese passports under the Individual Investor Programme.

Mallia however said that residence permits were being issued on the presentation of a lease agreement.

In a reference to Azzopardi’s claims, Mallia said the IIP had attracted over 300 applications and that due diligence was being given the highest form of consideration.

“To ensure transparency, the monitoring committee has been convened with the participation of the Opposition leader. It is not true that Schengen visas are being issued for an IIP passport. A residence permit can only be issued with a lease agreement from the owners of the property,” he said.

Mallia urged Azzopardi to pass on any information he might have after the MP claimed that there was corruption at the Citizenship Department and that Schenghen visas were being issued “like hot cakes”. According to Mallia, reduced red tape and increased efficiency led to the issuance of over 26,000 Schenghen and national visas.

“I was attacked one week after the other by the Opposition who wanted to tarnish my reputation and my integrity,” he said.

Mallia said the positive work carried out by the departments falling under his ministry was repeatedly shadowed by the PN’s “infantile” attacks.

Mallia praised the work carried out by the Film Commission and its success in promoting the island as an ideal filming location attracting international companies.

Reacting to the criticism leveled by PN MP Francis Zammit Dimech on broadcasting – who accused PBS of becoming One TV 2 – Mallia said the level of bias of imbalance in favour of the Nationalist administration had been rampant in the past years.

“Look at the results: PBS is offering programmes of better quality and organizing events of international standard,” he said, with reference to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest held at the Marsa shipbuilding.