The time for ‘theatrics’ is over | Joe Giglio

MP and PN spokesperson for home affairs and security JOE GIGLIO insists that his opposite number – Minister Byron Camilleri – has to go: holding him directly responsible for the decline of Malta’s law-enforcement sectors, across the board

Joe Giglio
Joe Giglio

Prime Minister Robert Abela recently declared that “he did not feel it safe to allow his daughter to walk alone in Valletta.” Your own reaction was to demand the immediate resignation of Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri. But while that may indeed be warranted, for a variety of reasons: will Camilleri’s resignation, on its own, really resolve the issue of violent crime in Malta?

First of all, the statement by the Prime Minister was slightly more qualified than that. He didn’t just say ‘I am worried about my daughter walking the streets of our capital city’: he also added something that is very relevant. Namely, that up until a few months ago, he had no such qualms about this, whatsoever: but now, at this very point in time… he does.

What does this mean? Essentially, it is a certificate that what we [the Nationalist Party] have long been stating, is in actual fact true. The Home Affairs and Security Minister has clearly failed, insofar as the ‘security’ of each and every one of us – ourselves; our friends and family; our youngsters; our elderly, etc. - is concerned.

And the stories we are now hearing, are of a certain level of violence that is almost unprecedented.  There has been a plurality of instances of unprovoked violence, of the kind that we never really used to see before. I have been active in the legal profession for 30 years now; and I can see, and visualise, the sheer extent of this increase in violence.

And this has led to each and every one of us feeling that we are no longer secure in our own homes; on our roads; in our places of work… and given that it is job of the Home Affairs Minister to guarantee our security: he [Byron Camilleri] has clearly, and obviously, failed…

That, as it happens, is also this newspaper’s editorial position. But while we can agree on Camilleri’s unsuitability: it still doesn’t answer the question of what effect his removal will actually have. There may be other factors at play here: including Malta’s rapid population-growth; rising inequality; and so on. How will Camilleri’s removal address any of this?

I agree that there are certainly more factors involved; but you have to look at where the problems really are. Why have we reached this stage? There are a plurality of reasons: all of which point directly back to the minister.

First and foremost: we have a completely demoralised, demotivated Police Force. Our police are overworked, overstretched… but definitely not overpaid. As a result, we have a situation today, where no call for applications for new recruits, ever reaches anywhere near the amount of applicants that are actually required. Simply put: we are not attracting anyone to join the Force.

Furthermore, we have various police officers – even senior officers – who are so demotivated, that they end up taking the very difficult decision to actually leave: sometimes, before reaching the 25-year pension threshold.

Why is this happening? Who is responsible for the Police Force?

Meanwhile, there has been a certain sense of impunity – a sense of ‘anything goes’: that, whatever happens, it’s never really going to be a ‘problem’ - instilled in recent years; and there can be no clearer example of this, than the way Byron Camilleri handled the issue of the former Director of Prisons [Robert Brincau].

That sent out the entirely wrong message…

For the sake of filling out background details: Byron Camilleri chose to retain Brincau in his position since last October, despite the fact that he was charged with ‘threatening an ambulance driver with a gun’. You had called for Brincau’s removal, at the time…

Actually, we were even more cautious than that. We argued, back then, that since [Brincau] was undergoing criminal proceedings, he should suspend himself until those proceedings were terminated. The reply we got from Byron Camilleri, however, was that he did not want to replace Brincau – even temporarily – because he was afraid he would ‘create a vacuum’ [within the prison administration].

But what ‘vacuum’ was he talking about? First of all, Camilleri seemed to be implying that – with all due respect – there is no one, on this entire island, who can temporarily replace a prison director; but secondly… when it came to finally replacing Robert Brincau, after he was found guilty by the courts: Byron Camilleri filled that position, immediately.

Clearly, then, it was just an excuse. And what makes it so reprehensible is that the charges against Brincau were highly serious: they included violent and abusive behaviour; misuse of prison property [the gun], for the purpose of committing a crime; and so on…

Essentially, that places Robert Brincau in the same position, as the people he is himself meant to ‘manage’: the people in prison, basically. I mean: you don’t often see a clearer, and more blatant, example of impunity than that. Not to mention the damage it has caused to the reputation of the prison itself …

Just a second ago, however, you admitted that the Police Force is struggling to hire sufficient personnel; and the same problems clearly exist in other areas, including prison and the law-courts. Clearly, then, there IS a logistical difficulty, in filling those positions. So what – beyond sacking Byron Camilleri – is the Nationalist Party actually proposing, to resolve this issues?

Let’s start with the police. In case I gave the wrong impression earlier: the reason that the Police are finding it so hard to recruit new officers, is not because of the lack of any capable or qualified people, to fill those roles. Far from it.

No, the problem is that the roles themselves are not attractive enough. It’s not just a case of financial conditions; I would say the work environment, as a whole, is not conducive to attracting new people, either.

Now: recently we spent E2.3 million on new police uniforms – and I have information to the effect that they are, in fact, more comfortable than the previous ones.

But that’s just a branding exercise; and we need more than just aesthetics, at this point in time. We also need to give back to the Police Force the dignity – that every police officer used to feel – which goes with actually wearing that uniform.

That dignity, today, has been lost. And this, too, is a factor that can be traced back to the minister’s failure to deliver…

Coming back to an earlier point: there is certainly a growing perception that Malta is becoming more ‘violent’ and ‘dangerous’; but then, criminologist Prof. Saviour Formosa regularly publishes crime statistics, which do not always support that view. Last August, for instance, there was a reported increase in theft and money-laundering; but an overall decrease in homicide and assault-and-battery cases.  Could it be, then, that our perceptions of violent crime are skewed?

That’s a very good question. The problem, however, is that we are not really talking about ‘crime rates’, as such. It’s not a question that certain types of crime are going up, and others down. Here, we are talking about a change in the TYPE of violent crimes that are being committed. There has been a surge in violence that is completely ‘unprovoked’, and… ‘senseless’, really.

Does it make sense to you, for instance, that a young woman walking back home from her birthday party – and it could have been anyone: your daughter, your sister; anyone – gets smashed by a speeding car, like that… and the driver of that car comes out afterwards, and hurls stones at her? Is this not a reflection, that something is deeply wrong?

With all due respect, however: it is dangerous to base national perceptions only on isolated incidents. The Pelin Kaya case was ‘unusual’, by any standard…

But it happened, and it happened now. But I’ll give you another example: does it make sense, that we now have gangs of people roaming around the streets of our capital city, and beating people up? For no reason whatsoever?

And does it make sense, that people get shot in the head – once, twice – cold-bloodedly? I’m talking about the most recent case: Bernice Cassar. But there have been so many of these cases, that… well, that’s the problem, right there. It’s happening altogether too often, now…

Hang on, wait: there is certainly nothing ‘new’, or ‘unprecedented’, about the case of Bernice Cassar. Long before that murder, there was Silvia King (and many more victims of femicide, beside). Are you seriously suggesting that ‘femicide’ is a completely new phenomenon, for Malta?

No, what I’m saying is that:  never before now have we had such a surge in numbers; and never before now have we had such a situation, of so many violent, unprovoked incidents, taking place so frequently. This is the difference.

Where, in the past, cases such as Silvia King were (thankfully) isolated incidents: now, the same sort of violence is becoming a lot more pronounced. And this is why each and every one of us – including our own Prime Minister – is feeling that the island is no longer safe and secure.

At the same time, however, the Nationalist Party has a history of using individual incidents, to generalise about the entire country. At the time of the Hamrun street-brawl, for example – which involved mostly Syrian nationals – you called for the ‘immediate deportation of all foreigners who commit serious crimes’. Wasn’t that a case of ‘scapegoating the foreigner’?

No, no: you are misquoting what I actually said, at the time. First of all, we did not only speak about that one incident: we have been speaking about each and individual case of violence; and there have been many more than one.

Secondly: when it comes to the deportation of foreigners, there is already a law which stipulates this: even if, sometimes, it is more of a ‘dead letter’, than not.

So my actual appeal, at the time, was that: we already have laws in place, that permit the deportation of foreigners who commit violent crimes – provided, of course, that we are not talking about persons who have been granted political asylum; or refugee status; or where there are international treaties, that prevent it from taking place, etc., etc..

But when this is not the case: we already have laws, which require that [deportation] happens, in certain circumstances. And yet, when those circumstances DO arise… deportation doesn’t happen, as required by law.

This is another flaw in the system: which, once again, can be traced back directly to Byron Camilleri. Who else, if not the Home Affairs Minister, was supposed to implement this? And how did he implement it, in practice?

One of the steps the government did take, was to create an entity called ‘Identity Malta’ – which also falls under the ‘Security’ portfolio – where the structures within it, have all more or less completely collapsed.

Meanwhile, Byron Camilleri’s own response to all this, on his various social media pages, was to inform us that ‘raids have been carried out, in various localities’; and that – for example – ‘on this day, 25 immigrants have been caught staying here without a permit’; and ‘on that day, it was 10.. or 15… or whatever…’

Now: at the time, I reacted by describing those raids – and the minister got offended, when I used the phrase - as ‘theatrics’. These are theatrics; and I also added that: ‘the time for theatrics is over’.

What we need today, is concrete action. Identity Malta needs to be restructured, to clarify the precise chain of responsibility. Who is it, for example, who actually has the remit [to enforce deportation orders]? Is it the Principal Immigration Officer? Identity Malta itself?

There don’t seem to be any answers to these questions, right now. We have a situation where ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing’: and that is how systems collapse, at the end of the day.

But to return to your question: I have to stress that ‘violence’, in itself, doesn’t know any creed or colour. This is not a question of ‘us against them’. So much so, that all the incidents we have been talking about, in this interview, were all ‘homegrown’. And this can only mean that the general sense of insecurity, that we are all feeling right now, stems from the actions of both locals, and foreigners.

One last question: recently, our newspaper reported that PN leader Bernard Grech found himself under pressure from his own party (your own name was mentioned in the article), over his perceived ‘weak leadership’. Would you say that the PN’s response to the security issue is part of this? That – at a time when the Labour government appears to losing its grip – Bernard Grech should be more ‘centre-stage’?

First of all, it has nothing to do with it whatsoever. The PN’s concern with security is something I have been harping on, for a very long time.  Secondly, the article you are referring to is not completely correct; and I might add that – in my opinion, at least – it is not ethically correct, either, to divulge what has been discussed behind closed doors.

Contrary to what was reported, however: the debate was actually a very constructive one, in which we brought forward ideas as to how we can strengthen ourselves; how we can be more in line, with people’s aspirations…

In that case, I’ll rephrase the question. Do you feel that – given the widespread complaints about Labour’s performance – the PN should really be making more inroads, than it actually is?

Well… THAT’s a lot more like the discussion we actually had. As for how I ‘feel’, though: I think the Nationalist Party is doing as much as it can; but I understand that we also have to reinforce ourselves, and reorganise ourselves, a lot more.

And this is what we are all collectively doing; because we believe that the Nationalist Party IS an alternative government-in-waiting; and we also feel that – now, more than ever - this country deserves a credible alternative, to the government it has today.