New agency to replace local enforcement system

New agency to regulate local enforcement will be led by former acting police commissioner Ray Zammit

Justice minister Owen Bonnici today launched a new agency replacing the maligned local enforcement system.

Bonnici said that in its first phase, the agency will mainly focus on coordinating existing bodies and improving the synergy between all partners. 

In its second phase, before the end of 2015, the agency will become a regulatory authority.  Last year, government launched a consultation process on the local enforcement reform, with the intent of creating a fairer and more transparent system.

The agency will be led by retiring assistant police commissioner Ray Zammit, who in December was removed from the helm of the police corps following the shooting incident involving Paul Sheehan, the driver of former home affairs minister Manuel Mallia.

However, Bonnici denied that this incident has rendered Zammit non-credible to lead this new agency, pointing out that has 40 years of experience in the police, including 15 years in the Special Assignment Group, seven years in the Traffic Section, and five years in charge of district police officers.

“Zammit has accumulated a lot of experience and he will make a huge difference in this agency,” Bonnici said. “He shouldered responsibility for the Sheehan incident by resigning from the post of police commissioner.”

Currently, the five Regional Committees contract private operators for warden services. However, Bonnici pointed out that, while wardens tend to act in good faith, the modus operandi of private companies is to earn money.

“The time has come to introduce a checks and balances system,” Bonnici said, adding that the new agency will consult with stakeholders for a reform in the “extremely complicated” system through which money from citation fines is shared.

Parliamentary secretary for local government Stefan Buontempo admitted that wardens have built up a negative reputation over the years.

“Unfortunately, many people negatively perceive wardens as tax gatherers rather than as people keeping order in the streets,” Buontempo said. “We want wardens to be professional law enforcers that truly help citizens out, rather than hiding behind cars waiting or hand out tickets or giving tickets who park for a minute just to pop into the pharmacy.

“Today signals the start of a voyage towards a local enforcement system that will make a difference in people’s lives.”

Answering questions on a damning report tabled in parliament Monday evening revealing that former police chief Peter Paul Zammit had instructed police officers not to press charges against a man who had assaulted police officers, Bonnici said he saw no reason why Zammit should resign form his new post as national security coordinator.

However, the minister admitted that better tools should be at the public’s disposal to seek remedy, noting that “the system already exists but it needs to be strengthened to give citizens more rights and safeguards.”