Minister to draft reform strategy for police force

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela to pilot new reform for beleaguered police force • Police commissioner confirms 10 August deadline for submission of declaration of interests by police officers

Minister Carmelo Abela and Commissioner Michael Cassar
Minister Carmelo Abela and Commissioner Michael Cassar

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela is in the process of drafting a new strategy, which will include an administrative shake up, for the fraught police corps.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Abela said that the plan is “targeted to achieve a serious and efficient Police Corps that also meets the exigencies of today’s realities”.

Following criticism for an ostensibly weak response to the recent controversies that engulfed the corps, Abela told MaltaToday that he wants to “restore people’s trust in the police force”.

While pointing out that public trust has been on the wane for “a number of years,” the minister said he is focused on restoring the force’s reputation.

He said the ministry’s main aims in the coming months include enhancing the police force’s “transparency and accountability” while increasing investment in human resources.

Furthermore, investments and improvements in training and equipment will be coupled by an administrative reorganisation.

While pointing out that the introduction of a Chief Executive Officer will be an “integral part” of this restructuring process, Abela did not commit himself on whether an internal audit unit would be created.

Abela also explained that he was overlooking an ongoing consultation process involving officers from both district and specialised units, while all police officers, from constables to Deputy Commissioners, are being encouraged to take part in a confidential questionnaire.

Urging all police officers to be “part of the change” and participate in the consultation process which ends on 16 August, Abela said “the ideas and suggestions of every member are valuable.”

Feedback received will be analysed by criminologist Saviour Formosa and the data will be used in the reform process.

Last year, the government announced an imminent reform of the force’s administrative structure: including the appointment of a Chief Executive, controversially giving the force’s top brass a three-year definite contract instead of the indefinite appointments given under the current system.

To date, however, these reforms have not been implemented but recent revelations about the actions of police officers have made the need for such reforms more urgent.

A recent inquiry into the involvement of a former inspector in the investigations of a 2008 murder said that then Inspector Daniel Zammit, his father, the former acting commissioner Ray, and his brother and police inspector Roderick, all failed to ask for permission to enter into private business relationships, opening them up to conflicts of interest.

The inquiry, led by former Judge Michael Mallia, also concluded that Daniel Zammit stalled the murder charge against Stephen Caruana, the son-in-law of businessman Joe Gaffarena, with whom the Zammit family had business links.

Declaration of interests deadline confirmed
In a terse comment to MaltaToday, police chief Michael Cassar confirmed that the deadline he set for the submission of a declaration of interests by all police officers still stands.

Last week, a circular ordering a declaration of interests by Monday, 10 August was issued 24 hours before the publication of the inquiry on Daniel Zammit.

However, the newly created Police Officers’ Union (POU) has demanded a meeting with Cassar to clarify the order, insisting that it will only take an official stand after clearing a number of matters with the commissioner.

“In principle I agree with declaring all interests because I’m for absolute transparency, but we have demanded a meeting with the Police Commissioner because the circular is very vague,” union president Sandro Camilleri told MaltaToday earlier this week.

Explaining the union’s reservations, Camilleri said “we want to know how it will work out and whether all activities will be deemed as unacceptable. What will happen if an officer’s wife owns a small family business?”

In a succinct reply to MaltaToday’s question on whether Cassar would be meeting the union, the force’s media unit said: “the Commissioner has communicated with the POU.”

While failing to confirm whether the meeting will take place, the police’s media unit confirmed that the 10 August deadline “still stands”.

Questions on whether Cassar agrees with the creation of an internal audit and investigations department and whether a structural shake up was in the pipeline remained unanswered.