Justice denied: Hundreds of ex-soldiers in limbo over grievances complaints

For five years government has been sitting on the findings of an AFM grievances board, promising justice but failing to deliver

Hundreds of ex-soldiers in limbo over grievances complaints
Hundreds of ex-soldiers in limbo over grievances complaints

Government has been sitting on the conclusions of an army grievances board for more than five years, leaving hundreds of mostly ex-soldiers frustrated and angry. 

The grievances board was set up in 2017 to address claims of past injustices in the Armed Forces of Malta and had received around 700 cases for consideration. 

However, more than five years after the board, then headed by retired Lt Col Alex Dalli, concluded its work and presented its findings to the Home Affairs Ministry, no action has been taken. 

The 2017 board was the third one to be set up since 2013 dealing with complaints of injustice in the army before Labour came to power. However, while the previous two exercises were closed and injustices rectified through back-dated promotions that led to back-dated pay and pension adjustments, the third exercise remains uncertain.   

“We have been left in limbo as to the outcome of our grievance, and if justified, how it will be addressed,” one former army officer, who was granted anonymity to speak freely, told MaltaToday. “The situation is frustrating and many are angry because government has so far failed to keep its promise to resolve the issue.” 

Dalli had concluded his investigations into the claims and presented the findings to the government in June 2018 before he was made head of the Corradino Correctional facility. 

According to several unconfirmed reports from people privy to the exercise, Dalli had found that around 65% of the claims were justified and made recommendations to rectify the injustices. Most complaints concerned promotions that were denied, resulting in thousands of euros in compensation back-dated to when the alleged injustice happened. 

But those who filed a complaint have never been informed of the outcome with some fearing they will be treated in a different manner than those who had their cases determined by the first two boards. 

“People are expecting to be treated in the same way as other injustices were handled, which for most would mean a hefty compensation settlement and possibly a pension adjustment,” another complainant who spoke on condition of anonymity said. 

The ex-soldier added that a rumour is doing the rounds that government could be considering a one-off financial settlement, irrespective of what would have originally been due had the individual been awarded a promotion. 

“I hope that justice is done by taking into account the time period for which I was denied a promotion and the relevant missed pay, and also have my pension adjusted accordingly. I hope that justice is served and we are not offered peanuts,” he said. 

So far, the complainants remain in the dark and a reply sent to MaltaToday by the Home Affairs Ministry does little to suggest the matter will be resolved shortly. 

The ministry’s answer is almost identical to a reply sent two years ago to another newspaper that reported on the delay to settle the injustice claims. 

“This government is committed to continue addressing the injustices experienced by AFM personnel due to the actions of the previous governments. All applicants shall be duly informed of the findings of the board once the process is concluded, including the action to be taken, as proposed by the board,” a spokesperson for the ministry said. 

He added the government already showed its commitment to enhance the AFM personnel’s working conditions. “This commitment was transmitted through an unprecedented collective agreement after years of frozen working conditions. Also note, that in the last months, another agreement was signed which will compensate for the additional hours worked in relation to their duties.” 

It remains unclear when this matter will be resolved but General Workers’ Union section secretary responsible for disciplined forces, Theo Vella, told MaltaToday the union is pressuring the government for a quick resolution. 

“Last year we were promised that within one year of the election the matter would be resolved but this has not been the case and the GWU is putting pressure on the government to announce the findings and the relevant compensation due in those cases that are justified,” Vella said. 

The injustices boards set up by the Labour government were criticised by then Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino in his Ombudsplan for 2016. He had expressed concern that these ad hoc grievances boards lacked autonomy and independence, did not function in a transparent manner, and did not apply rules in a uniform manner. 

He also warned the boards may even lead to injustices and discrimination against third parties. 

One of the worrying cases flagged at the time by the Ombudsman was that of a complaint about an alleged injustice that had taken place while Malta was still a colony and the army was still part of the British army. 

Said Pullicino had said other legal avenues to seek redress for alleged injustice existed such as the Ombudsman that ensured the process was autonomous, independent and transparent.