[WATCH] GRECO's recommendations and not analysis is what matters, justice minister says

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said that most of GRECO's analyses were based on news reports published in Malta and abroad in recent years

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici on Xtra
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici on Xtra

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has “embraced” the recently published GRECO report but said that ultimately only the recommendations that came it mattered.

"How many times are we going to keep reading the same analyses? What interests me aren't the summaries but the 23 recommendations, some of which echo the Venice Commission. The overlap is just," he said.

Bonnici was speaking on TVM programme Xtra, where he said that the summaries brought forward by the report reflected the news reports on which they were based.  

"GRECO's work is to criticise as it did with countless other countries. All their reports are damning, as it should be, but it's not true that our legal systems refuse to change," he said.

Bonnici pointed to recently-proposed changes to Malta’s legal system, including the separation of the Attorney General’s powers, following a number of recommendations made by the Venice Commission.  

The minister claimed that Nationalist Party MEPs kindled the ire of fellow MEPs like the Socialist MEP Ana Gomes and Greens MEP Sven Giegold, who have a history of criticising Malta at the European Parliament.

"I don't blame them. Sven Giegold is acting in his country's interest, he is doing his job. He's making sure that Malta's economic success does not continue," Bonnici said, adding that it was the PN MEPs who were to blame for kicking Malta repeatedly in the stomach before they backtracked at the prospect of the EU triggering Article 7.

This article, when triggered, would suspend certain rights for a member state, based on a member state persistently breaching EU's founding values, including the rule of law.

Bonnici said that it was time now to stop talking and analysing and that he had read enough of the remarks and articles of the Commissioner of Laws Franco Debono and Law Faculty Dean Kevin Aquilina.

"It's time to act," he said. "What's important about GRECO is the recommendations. I have lost my patience at this point and wish to start taking action."

READ MORE: GRECO report: 'Malta clearly lacks integrity standards for government officials'

He criticised the Opposition for condemning the present administration, irrespective of whether it acted on the report’s recommendations and added that he would embrace the GRECO's recommendations as he did those of the Venice Commission, with the aim of implementing them where necessary.

Bonnici argued that some changes had already been implemented such as the newly proposed separation of powers of the Attorney General, which he said would come into force sometime in summer.

“Up to some time ago, before 2016, a judge called out for bad practice could either be absolved or brought before parliament to be judged via a two-thirds majority,” he said. “A labour administration changed this too. Now he can be judged by a board made up of fellow judges and be reduced to a half-pay fine.”

The Office of the Standards Commissioner, occupied by lawyer and former MP George Hyzler, was also a new addition to Malta’s parliamentary system, Bonnici said.

He insisted that it was unfair and that it personally hurt him when the media, local or foreign, says that nothing was being done over the murder of the late investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and repeated the fact that within six months of the assassination, three people had been arrested and arraigned.

“I have full faith in the current investigation, including the help of foreign jurisdictions. They might have better technology, but not better minds. There is also an inquiring magistrate, Neville Camilleri, who is presiding over the inquiry and who has the respect of everyone involved,” he said.

On calls for a public inquiry into the murder, Bonnici stressed that expert advice given to him suggested this would be counterproductive and would come in the way of the current criminal inquiry.

At the end of the programme, Bonnici admitted that a minister’s salary is not that great and said that he often signed contracts for CEOs of several companies whose salary were double or triple of what he earned.

“We should leave this issue in the hands of opinionists and experts however,” he said.

He argued that if society said that ministers didn’t merit an increase, then it should stand, but that ultimately an increase would be beneficial, enticing the best minds and personalities to politics.

READ MORE: Parliament to discuss GRECO evaluation findings

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