No breakthrough in talks between Mallia and Ombudsman

Further meetings yet to take place to solve impasse in Ombudsman inquiry into AFM promotions

Minister Manuel Mallia and Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino: talks ongoing between the two
Minister Manuel Mallia and Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino: talks ongoing between the two

There has been no breakthrough in the institutional standoff between Parliamentary Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino and Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia over complaints from Armed Forces personnel over their promotions.

The two – who years ago worked together when Mallia was an up and coming lawyer – met over Said Pullicino’s request for information to carry out his inquiry one month after the minister requested a meeting.

Mallia contends that the Ombudsman has ‘no jurisdiction’ over the army, and wants to prevent Said Pullicino from pursuing the complaints. Instead, the government wants the complaints processed through government-appointed ‘grievances boards’.

Mallia also contends that in 2003 – two years prior to Said Pullicino’s appointment – an investigating officer in the Ombudsman’s office refused to investigate a complaint lodged by an army officer over promotions, before exhausting all other channels.

Said Pullicino is reiterating that the Ombudsman Act gives him the jurisdiction to investigate complaints made by AFM officers.

On Tuesday, Mallia and Said Pullicino met to discuss the issue, and while the Ombudsman’s office says progress “has been registered”, further discussions “are required.”

On its part, a home affairs ministry spokesperson confirmed that no breakthrough was achieved and further meetings will take place.

“There is agreement between the minister and the Ombudsman on the fact that there is a legal anomaly [which] can be addressed by amendments in the law. The Office of the Ombudsman will forward to the ministry its proposals. There will be more meetings between the two sides on this matter.”

In June, both the Ombudsman and the government filed judicial protests against each other, after the Ombudsman insisted his office had jurisdiction to consider complaints filed by AFM personnel.

Said Pullicino has told MaltaToday that he disagrees with the legal interpretation given in 2003. Affirming his political independence, the Ombudsman argued that he is simply reiterating what he told the previous government in 2009, when he was faced with the same complaints on army promotions. “It is simply not true that I treated this issue differently under a different administration… This issue was tackled and resolved in 2009,” Said Pullicino said.

He said that under the previous administration, talks were held over several months between President George Abela, the OPM and the Attorney General, and the army. An agreement was reached that allowed AFM officers to either lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman, or refer the complaint to the President of Malta, through the Commander of the Armed Forces and the minister.

“According to this agreement members of the army could choose either to lodge their complaint with the President or the Ombudsman… in a way that if the complaint went to the President officers lost their right to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman, and vice versa,” Said Pullicino said in an interview.