[WATCH] Corrupt police who assumed immunity were 'grossly mistaken', Byron Camilleri says

Shadow police minister Beppe Fenech Adami says that the 'culture of impunity' is to blame for the current crisis in the police corps

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said that whoever assumed he would not be investigated for corruption was "grossly mistaken" and that the current investigations into police corruption and fraud aimed to create a "bulletproof" corps that would be immune from similar abuses in the future.

Camilleri said that allegations into traffic police getting paid for extra duty for work they never did and whistleblower claims that officers collected 'protection money' are being investigated by the Internal Audit and Investigations Department, an inquiry that is running parallel to an investigation being run by the police corps.

"Whoever thought that he would not be investigated was wrong. We asked the IAID to make a parallel investigation not just to look at the allegations of abuse but to prevent future abuses," Camilleri said on TVM's Xtra on Thursday.

The allegations are also subject to a magisterial inquiry. A whistleblower who exposed corruption in the Police Traffic Branch claimed last week that officers collected ‘protection money’ from major construction firms and transport companies to turn a blind eye on traffic contraventions and other violations.

Police officers from the traffic branch were also allegedly receiving payments for extra duty on various road work projects but failing to turn up.

"My work as a politician is not to investigate, not to conduct witch hunts. As a politician, I need to ensure that the police have enough resources to investigate, and good policies in place, as well as a political guide as to the current laws," Camilleri said, adding that the police corp was currently investigating its own officials so that the corp itself could become bulletproof and similar abuses are not repeated.

A total of 37 officers from the police corps’ traffic division had been arrested amid an investigation in overtime abuse.

Fenech Adami blames ‘culture of impunity’ for police corps’ woes

Beppe Fenech Adami claims that “you reap what you sow”, and says that the corruption within the police force is a result of a nationwide culture of impunity.

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra, Fenech Adami argued that there is a prevalent mentality that one can do whatever one wants without any consequences, insisting that this mentality comes “from the very top”.

The opposition MP bemoaned the fact that 80% of the traffic section of the corps is under investigation, saying that the police corps has lost all that it gained in the last 30 years, since the days when a police commissioner was sentenced in connection to the murder of Nardu Debono.

Beppe Fenech Adami
Beppe Fenech Adami

“The police have lost all that they had gained. They had won over the respect and the support of the Maltese people. The people used to look up to them, the criminal used to worry about the police; nowadays it is like everything has turned topsy-turvy”, Fenech Adami said.

Fenech Adami lay the blame for this at the government’s feet, drawing comparisons between the murder of Debono, and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The opposition MP noted that while in the 1980’s a person was murdered and his body thrown into a valley, nowadays, the public and the press were kept in the dark about the investigation into another murder – that of Caruana Galizia – while the person who ordered the assassination was informed post-haste.

When show host Saviour Balzan brought up the fact that many police officers have low wages, Fenech Adami retorted that one cannot use this to justify any abuse.

“Everyone knows what they’re getting in for”, he argued. “This job is a vocation. We need to attract people who have the vocation and the desire to be a police officer, and are not merely applying because they need a job”.

The opposition MP continued by insisting that such cases of corruption will not be wiped out by raising wages, but rather “by having a functioning system, having the necessary checks and balances, and having zero tolerance for corruption”.

Questioned as to what reforms he would implement if he had the opportunity, Fenech Adami said that the corps’ ethos must change in order to attract the best people, and those who see the corps as their life’s fulfillment.

“In recent years, when the entry requirements were reduced, the wrong message was sent out”, Fenech Adami insisted, singling out the amendment which allows for individuals with a tarnished police conduct to join the corps nonetheless.

“The moment that the country sent out the message that one can join the police corps with a tarnished criminal conduct, competent people automatically and immediately stopped applying to join the corps”, the opposition MP argued.

Fenech Adami also called for a halt in the “brain drain” which he insists is taking place within the corps, claiming that many of the best and most experienced people within it are leaving. He blamed this on what he sees as a lack of meritocracy within the police force.

“In trying to please everyone, even those who do not deserve it, this government ended up rewarding those who do not deserve it, while those who should have been rewarded were pushed to the side. We need to introduce the concept of meritocracy” Fenech Adami said.

Asked by Balzan about his party’s proposal for the method of selecting a new Police Commissioner, Fenech Adami said that the Nationalist Party is asking the government to learn from past mistakes, and implement a system where the Commissioner will be chosen through a consensus of two-thirds of Parliament.

“The people want us to agree on one person”, the opposition MP said, insisting that this will result in a Commissioner who “is not controversial, and can focus on his duties”.