Muscat tells Opposition to find one country that appoints police chief with two-thirds of the House

As the House debated Malta's institutions, the Prime Minister said that calls for the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General to be replaced individuals enjoying the support of two-thirds of parliament undermined the rule of law

Malta’s parliament on Monday evening debated a special session on the rule of law, two weeks since the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia this time did not call for the resignation of the Prime Minister as he did in his Budget speech, but demanded the heads of the Commissioner of Police and Attorney General.

The same demands have been echoed by the Civil Society Network currently leading nationwide protests in the wake of the assassination.

But Prime Minister Joseph Muscat challenged the Opposition to name at least two countries in Europe and elsewhere, where the police chief or Attorney General are appointed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority as laid down in the PN’s good governance pledge. “I challenge them to name two countries, and if they can’t come up with two, to tell us of at least one,” Muscat said.

He stressed the suggestion went against the principle of separation of powers, a fundamental principle of the rule of law.

He said despite allegations made against Attorney General Peter Grech, appointed to office by the Nationalist administration before 2013, he had been allowed to work freely. Muscat used the example of the case brought against Labour candidate Cyrus Engerer days before the 2014 MEP elections he was contesting.  

He said calls for Grech’s resignation undermined the rule of law. “The rule of law means that if every person in this room votes to remove the AG and there is no legal basis for it, it cannot be done,” he said, referring to Grech’s security of tenure.

Turning to claims that the people did not have faith in Commissioner of Police Lawrence Cutajar to carry out the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder, Muscat said was the inquiring magistrate that gave instructions to the police involved in the investigations.  

Muscat accepted that there was more to be done on corruption, but pointed out while the Opposition was complaining that action on the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS) allegations were taking place 11 months since the first denunciation, there were other scandals involving the FTS in past legislatures where no action was taken.

Adrian Delia

Speaking ahead of Muscat, Opposition leader Adrian Delia challenged the government to complete its constitutional reform before the 2019 MEP elections so that a referendum could be held if it was required. Muscat replied that he had no problem holding a referendum if it was required.

Delia called on the Prime Minister to carry political responsibility for Caruana Galizia’s murder, but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

He reiterated the Opposition’s demands for the removal of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General, and their replacement by individuals enjoying a two-thirds parliamentary majority, the

“This change doesn’t require any constitutional change,” he said. “It needs to consent of the Government and the Opposition. It can happen today.”

Looking further ahead, Delia said there was the need for reforms to the Police Force and the Judiciary, as well as the office of the Attorney General, which he said could no longer be expected to have the responsibility to both advise and investigate the government.

Similarly, Delia said the office of the Attorney General also needed reform. He said the AG could not remain in a situation where it needed to advise the government while also being tasked with prosecuting

“Can you have a lawyer who is your lawyer as well as that of the other party?” asked Delia. “These aren’t things that should be a political football but things we need to agree upon for the benefit of the country.”

Furthermore, he said the Office of Ombudsman needed more powers to act, while the Malta Financial Services Authority and the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit should have more power to “scrutinise what was going one”, while there should also be reforms in the laws governing the appointments of inquiring magistrates.

Another proposal for legal changes to be passed to prevent government’s from employing people on the eve of elections.

“Today there is the Labour Party in government and tomorrow there might be another,” said Delia.

In response, Muscat said the Government had started implementing important institutional changes at the start of the last legislature. He said he was looking forward to having a healthy discussion with the Opposition on the changes it wanted and on what the Government planned to implement.

Muscat stressed that while the nation had chosen the Labour Party’s manifesto, his Government was open to listening to suggestions from the Nationalist Party’s manifesto. 

Fenech Adami, Busuttil, Bartolo, Zammit Lewis

Responding to Muscat, MP Beppe Fenech Adami asked the Prime Minister to give him one example of a country were the prime minister signed off on deals using his personal email or where he travelled to sign an energy deal without members of the media or any public servants.

He said that with so many foreign media houses reporting on developments in Malta, he could not understand how the Prime Minister could blame the Opposition for harm done to the country’s reputation.

“Name one Prime Minister leading a country in shock who chooses to go to Dubai and sell passports,” said Fenech Adami.

Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said it had been two seeks since the “most brutal assassination since the killing of Raymond Caruana”. He said the Government was in denial about the severity of what had happened, and was instead choosing to make it seem as though the Opposition was also to blame.

“Under our watch assassinations of this nature never took place,” said Busuttil, adding that while corruption was a realty, never before had Malta seen such “institutionalised corruption”.

He said it was unacceptable for assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta – married to Gozo minister Justyne Caruana – to be involved in the investigation into Caruana Galzia’s murder, while also hitting out at the government for trivialising the journalist’s death. Busuttil pointed out that there had been no day or mourning or any recognition from the Government.

Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia said Caruana Galizia had been killed for “trying to do that which the country’s institutions had failed to do”. She said that at a time when the nation was looking to Parliament for reassurance, all it could offer was a Government that was refusing to acknowledge a problem, and an Opposition that contained elements that did not have the “stature” to speak address parliament on what needed to be done.

The former Labour MP said that while it was true that the country’s institutions had been being eaten away at for years, the Labour Party had failed to make the changes required to strengthen them.

She said that both sides of the house needed to stop wasting time bickering, in order to ensure that Caruana Galizia’s will have died for nothing.

Despite the Opposition laying the blame for Caruana Galizia’s murder, and institutional failures at the present administration’s feet, several Government MPs pointed to instances in the past where the institutions had also failed the country.

Former Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis questioned how it was that the Nationalist Party had no issue with the pardoning Brazilian drug trafficker Queiroz and Joseph Fenech (Zeppi l-Hafi) or indeed “a police commissioner who was caught in a sexual scandal and who also happened to be the head of the secret service”.  

Finance minister Edward Scicluna said that when it came to money laundering, Malta had implemented all the directives required of it, and had regularly welcomed officials from various European watchdogs, none of whom had ever raised any issues. He called on parliament not to “exaggerate” and not to let a criminal act be used against the country.

On his part, Education minister Evarist Bartolo said that what the country needed from its MPs was not to have “the pot and the kettle” hurl insults at each other.

“It is definitely not a solution for one side to think it is perfect while the other is all bad, or if it takes the attitude that things were going well, and the rule of law was only well and good before the March 2013,” he said.

Bartolo added that this “arrogant approach” would not be solving the problems with the country’s institutions, noting that during the last legislature, the government had implemented party financing laws, had introduced prescription on corruption committed by politicians and the whistle-blower act, and was also in the process of introducing a mechanism for the parliamentary scrutiny of public officials.  

The minister insisted that rather than speak as though everything was bad when in opposition, and that everything is good when in government, both sides needed to seek common ground and work together for constitutional reform. 

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