Minister, MP trade accusations during debate on union membership for disciplined forces

Home Affairs Minister accuses previous administration of abandoning disciplined forces • Nationalist MP accuses minister of ‘moral violence’

Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia
Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia

A debate on a law granting trade union membership for disciplined forces saw the two sides of the House trading accusations of how each administration treated members of the Armed Forces and the Police Force.

While Minister Manuel Mallia accused the Nationalist administration of abandoning the Police Academy and criticised the mismanagement at the prisons, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi accused Mallia of “moral violence” and vindictive transfers.

Yesterday evening, parliament started discussing the law granting disciplined forces a “fundamental right” to join their trade union of their own choice.

“This is another memorable event in the legislature of this government and I am proud to go down in history as the minister who granted this right,” Mallia said.

His comment would later prompt Azzopardi to quip that the minister’s comments had reminded him of a quote from ‘Yes Minister’ – the satirical British sitcom that followed the career of a minister.

“Politics is a vastly subsidised ego-trip, and that is what you reminded us of, Minister,” Azzopardi told Mallia.

During his intervention, Mallia said the Labour government was honouring its pledges, giving people their rights in a democratic country. He said that members of the disciplined forces would now go to work with increased enthusiasm, making them more loyal towards the country.

“A safer country means increased tourism,” he added.

Mallia said that Azzopardi had declared himself against granting disciplined forces to join a union of their own choice, instead saying that they should join an inhouse union.

“Why is that? Don’t you trust the officials? Why not give them a choice?” Mallia asked Azzopardi.

The minister went on to apologise to the members of the disciplined forces for the politicians’ shortcomings. He however urged the same members “not to allow anyone to use them for political mileage”.

According to Mallia, “certain members were being asked to pass on [to people outside the corps] circulars, memos and information”.

The minister said that the Police Force had been left with 300 officers short while the Police Academy and the prisons had been left in a disastrous state.

230 new members have joined the Armed Forces while a new helicopter with night vision facility was procured. Officers in detention centres increased by 43.

Taking the floor, Azzopardi thanked the minister for “dedicating much of his time attacking” him.

“I am sincerely grateful for the Minister’s outdated attitude…sincerely thank you for strengthening my resolve to fight this deceiving machine,” the Nationalist MP said.

Azzopardi said that while Mallia had said the government was open to dialogue with the disciplined forces, “yet he only met the Malta Police Association once”.

Reiterating that “vindictive transfers” had marred both the Malta Police Force (MPF) and the Armed Forces of Malta, he said that he could not understand why the MPF had three deputy commissioners to command 2,000 police officers.

“It beggars belief that we have more deputy commissioners than London’s Metropolitan Police or Hong Kong’s,” Azzopardi said.

Confirming that the Opposition would be voting in favour of the legislation, Azzopardi said the government could not, on one hand, say that it was granting more rights to the disciplined force and then “create obstacles” to the Ombudsman’s investigations into complaints lodged by soldiers.

Citing a MaltaToday editorial on transparency, Azzopardi asked why the Ministry was keeping two inquiry reports under wraps.

The two inquiries in question refer to the wrongful prosecution of Darryl Luke Borg over a Birkirkara holdup last year and the decision by former police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit to drop charges against a person who had assaulted and threatened officers at the Zabbar police station.

“Ironically the incident happened when this House was debating [and approved] a bill to strengthen penalties and fines against violence on public officials,” Azzopardi said.

In both cases, the ministry had said the reports would be made public.

Recently pressed by journalists to say when these would be published, the minister said these would be published in due time, after the reports had been analysed.

Azzopardi went on to accuse Mallia of “moral violence” for having asked a journalist about his previous employer. The journalist in question, the MP said, had asked Mallia for an indication of when the reports would be published.

More in National