[WATCH] Former police chief Ray Zammit refuses to face the press

Journalists disallowed from questioning former police chief Ray Zammit, despite assurances that they would be allowed to do so. 

Former police commissioner Ray Zammit in conversation with justice minister Owen Bonnici. Photo: Ray Attard
Former police commissioner Ray Zammit in conversation with justice minister Owen Bonnici. Photo: Ray Attard

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Journalists were denied the chance to quiz former police commissioner Ray Zammit about his controversial property dealings, despite being promised that he would take questions from the press.

Zammit, now head of the Local Enforcement Agency (LESA), had invited guests –including justice minister Owen Bonnici and parliamentary secretary Stefan Buontempo - to his offices to celebrate the 100th day since its inception.

The Nationalist Party had boycotted the celebrations in protest at Zammit's appointment as LESA head. 

After the three had given brief speeches upstairs, journalists were promised that Ray Zammit would take questions downstairs. However, it was only Bonnici who climbed down the stairs, while the former police chief stayed put above.

The minister spoke to the press, repeatedly dodging questions as to whether he or the public should have faith in Zammit. He pledged journalists that they would get the chance to speak to Zammit, but he left the Pieta building right after taking questions. Journalists were left waiting at reception in vain for Zammit to appear, and LESA officials ignored press requests for him to do so. 

The Sunday Times reported last week that the government sold three plots of land in Mosta to Zammit and his brother – amounting to a total of 383 square metres - for only €20,000.

The Zammits’ residences are built on the land in question, but the Lands Department had previously ordered them to vacate a portion of the land, which they claimed was government property that the Zammit family had no title to. The Zammits contested these claims in court, arguing that they did in fact have a valid title to the land and that any fault lay with the previous landowners.

With court proceedings ongoing, the Lands Department last April issued a tender for the three plots of land in question, with the Zammits granted the right of first refusal.

The tender advert did not include a minimum value requested for the plots of land, and the Lands Department had calculated their estimate value based on calculations used by government when expropriating land.

The “ministerial approved policy” states that the current value of land should be calculated based on its value when it was first acquired  by the current occupier - adjusted according to the inflation index plus an annual 5% between the year it was occupied till the date of sale.

Bonnici told the press that the Zammits were able to purchase the plots of land at such a cheap price because they had been occupying them since the 1980s – when their market value was much cheaper than it currently is. 

Bonnici dodges questions on confidence in Zammit

Facing the media, Owen Bonnici repeatedly dodged questions on whether the public should have confidence in Ray Zammit.

“The issue revolves around a policy, which people are free to agree or disagree with,” he explained, referring to the ministerial policy that allowed Ray Zammit to purchase the plots of land on the cheap.”

He later added that Zammit “has all the necessary capabilities” to properly carry out his new role as LESA chief executive.

“He has a wealth of experience in the local enforcement sector, and was indeed once in charge of Malta’s traffic police system,” he said.

“I believe he can help fix the mess that the government had inherited in the local enforcement sector.” 

LESA was established last year, following a government decision to centralise the local enforcement system in an attempt to boost warden efficiency. Through the much-maligned previous system, regional committees used to contract private operators for warden services. However, government had often warned that the system had developed into a “ticket-issuing machine”, with regional committees requiring money generated from fines simply to pay private operators for their warden services.

During the visit, Bonnici said that the reform will see the local enforcement system become self-sustainable, and not funded by taxpayers’ fines.

Parliamentary secretary for local councils Stefan Buontempo said that the government wants the role of wardens in society to shift from “the public’s enemies to the public’s friends”.

“We want them positioned at locations that are in citizens’ interest, and we want all fines to be justified.”

Indeed, he hailed the establishment of a customer care unit within LESA whose staff have been tasked with listening to complaints, noting that as many as 450 complaints were filed in December alone.