Ombudsman keeping options open to ‘defend’ AFM officers

Talks between Ombudsman and Manuel Mallia over AFM complaints at a standstill

Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino – keeping his options open (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino – keeping his options open (Photo: Chris Mangion)

The Office of the Ombudsman is keeping its options open over home affairs minister Manuel Mallia’s dithering in the institutional standoff between the two over complaints from Armed Forces personnel about their promotions.

Despite a mutual agreement to hold further meetings following the first attempt to find a breakthrough in the impasse between Mallia and Parliamentary Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino in August, no further meetings have been held.

“There was only one meeting with the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security which was cordial and positive,” an Ombudsman spokesperson told MaltaToday.

The two – who years ago were colleagues when Mallia was an up and coming lawyer – had met following Said Pullicino’s request for information to carry out an inquiry on issues of promotions, pay and pension rights.

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.

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

Following the August meeting, the Ombudsman’s office said progress “has been registered” but further noted that discussions “are required.” A home affairs ministry spokesperson had also told MaltaToday that no breakthrough was achieved and further meetings were planned.

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.

In fresh comments to MaltaToday, the Ombudsman’s office explained that Mallia argued that the laws in this respect are not clear and that they should be clarified.

The Ombudsman’s office pointed out that whatever amendments were deemed to be necessary by the government, these should not prejudice the right of the army officers to complain to the office.

“The Ombudsman was given to understand that the government would be considering his submissions and would table a Bill when Parliament resumed its business in October,” the office said.

Questions sent to the home affairs ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister to confirm whether the bill was finalized and when it would be tabled in Parliament remain unanswered. 

The Ombudsman’s office spokesperson added that Mallia has given no indication of what action the government intends to take and noted that while “no Bill has been tabled in the House,” the Ombudsman is not aware of its contents.

Asked whether the Ombudsman is considering other legal avenues to settle the dispute, the spokesperson said Said Pullicino “will act accordingly and will remain free to take any appropriate action he considers it proper to defend the army officers who filed a complaint with him.”