‘Antiquated’ public service commission unsuitable to pick police chief, NGO says

NGO Repubblika says PM will retain power to select one of two candidates for police commissioner and then have it rubber-stamped by House majority

Repubblika spokesperson Manuel Delia
Repubblika spokesperson Manuel Delia

The NGO Repubblika has claimed a reform announced by Prime Minister Robert Abela to appoint a police commissioner by a majority in the House after the prime minister selects a candidate short-listed through a public competition, still means he will retain absolute power on the selection of a police chief.

Under Maltese law, the prime minister appoints its police commissioner directly for a period of five years, a power that came in for criticism by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

Abela yesterday announced it would be the Public Service Commission, the body that regulates public service vacancies and discipline, that will short-list candidates who will apply for the post of police commissioner via a public competition. It will then be the prime minister to select one candidate from a short-list of two, who will then be approved by a simply majority in the House of Representatives.

But Repubblika claimed the change was “solely cosmetic” because the PSC, an independent body appointed in terms of the Constitution, is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. “In effect, this means that the Prime Minister can actually appoint whoever s/he likes on the Commission even if the Opposition do not approve them,” Repubblika claimed, adding that none of the PSC members had been appointed on the basis of merit or competence. The PSC is chaired by veteran civil servant Louis P. Naudi.

“They are simply going to hand over a short list to the Prime Minister, who is then going to choose his candidate, who will finally be approved by a simple majority in Parliament which usually, blindly executes whatever the Prime Minister wants. These ceremonious procedures which pretend to create independence in the choice of a state official, but which in reality leave the choice to the Prime Minister’s monarchic and absolutist power, have already been applied by the Government in the so-called reform regarding the appointment of the judiciary,” Repubblika said.

Malta’s judges and magistrates are selected by the prime minister from a list of suitable candidates first vetted by a judicial appointments commission who receive applications from members of the bar.

In its recommendations, the Venice Commission said “there should be a public competition for the post of Police Commissioner and the appointing authority (Prime Minister or President) should be bound by the results of the evaluation of that competition, even though they might have a power of veto against the candidate selected.”

“We want the powers that Joseph Muscat exploited, in order to allow this impunity to happen, to be curtailed. Robert Abela’s reference to the Venice Commission’s report does not impress us. Just as Joseph Muscat’s government had done when it introduced the reform regarding the Attorney General’s office, the Government today has taken an extract of the Venice Commission’s report out of context and has implemented it with a set of measures that practically nullify the Commission’s intent to see the Prime Minister’s powers reduced and those of the institutions strengthened.”

Repubblica also said that the prime minister will not change his unlimited power to dismiss the Police Commissioner at his discretion. “If this is the case, then the Government is retaining the power to threaten any Commissioner wanting to take action against it, that it can retaliate by firing him. We know that this kind of power led Police Commissioner Michael Cassar, for example, to opt to resign rather than muster the necessary courage to accuse Konrad Mizzi of money-laundering. We are disappointed to see wasted another opportunity to create reform that would truly democratize our institutions.”

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