Malta still has no anti-corruption strategy or special investigator, says watchdog

Council of Europe anti-corruption watchdog GRECO says Malta lagging behind on many of its recommendations for a stronger integrity and anti-corruption framework

A placard at an anti-corruption protest called by the Nationalist Party soon after the revelations of the Panama Papers in March 2016. The placard reads: 'Who does not fight corruption, is corrupt'. Photo: Ray Attard
A placard at an anti-corruption protest called by the Nationalist Party soon after the revelations of the Panama Papers in March 2016. The placard reads: 'Who does not fight corruption, is corrupt'. Photo: Ray Attard

Malta has not yet started an overarching anti-corruption strategy that it had been recommended to embark on by anti-corruption watchdog GRECO.

The Council of Europe’s group of states against corruption said the strategy had to be built on a risk assessment of government and top executive officials, but this had not yet been initiated.

Malta was found to have implemented satisfactorily only two out of 23 recommendations, while 12 were partly implemented and nine have not been implemented.

GRECO said Malta had to show further progress over the next 18 months, with an action report from the country to be submitted by 31 March 2023.

GRECO said the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life had not been vested with any power to impose additional sanctions for violations discovered, and the function of confidential advice was still not dissociated from the Commissioner’s competences.

It said transparency of the legislative process at the government level required further improvement: some measures to facilitate public consultation through electronic access are underway, but they have not led to tangible progress so far.

But the accelerated adoption of constitutional amendments in July 2020 was described as “a more recent illustration of the need for greater transparency in the legislative process, including meaningful public consultations.”

GRECO however called for more safeguards to limit the number of appointments of “persons of trust” in the government to an absolute minimum, and these positions should be subject to the same integrity requirements and supervision as other PTEFs.

“No measures have been taken to introduce ad hoc disclosure when conflicts of interest occur in respect of top executive officials and there are no procedures to manage such situations. In addition, regulation of lobbying and the disclosure of contacts between top executives and third parties is yet to be accomplished, and plans to establish an Integrity Unit to support public office-holders in solving ethical dilemmas have not materialised.”

GRECO said important challenges remained in the investigations of some of the high- profile corruption cases. “The lack of special investigation techniques for revealing corruption offences also remains a serious drawback.”

As regards law enforcement authorities, several important policy documents have been adopted, such as the Anti-Fraud and Corruption Policy, the Police Code of Ethics, the Police Force Transformation Strategy, the Horizontal Movement Policy and the Policy on Business Interests and Additional Occupations.

A new procedure for the appointment of the Police Commissioner was also introduced and the new Police Commissioner, as well as his Deputy, have been appointed in accordance with this new procedure.

In addition, new provisions regarding guidance on gifts were reflected in the updated Anti-Fraud and Corruption Policy. GRECO was told breaches of the Code of Ethics may trigger sanctions commensurate to the gravity of such breaches, and the role of the newly introduced Integrity Officer has been specified, including as regards confidential counselling on ethics and integrity.

Recent legislative amendments also introduced the Police Disciplinary Appeals Board, which took over the task of examining disciplinary appeals from the Independent Police Complaints Board. Finally, police officers have been enabled to report possible corruption offences anonymously.

“These are clearly positive steps. Nonetheless, additional measures must be taken to fully meet the demands of all the recommendations. Thus, greater coherence is needed among the rules on police ethics and integrity, which are still contained in several documents,” GRECO said.

GRECO said it remains uncertain whether sufficient resources are provided to the Independent Police Complaints Board to clearly establish it as an efficient and independent complaints mechanism.

And while police officers reporting possible corruption from within the Police Force are covered by the ad hoc protection mechanism in the Anti-Fraud and Corruption Policy, they do not benefit from Protection of Whistle-Blowers Act.