A statement by the government on Tuesday attacked the judges conducting the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia for decreeing they will keep hearing evidence beyond the deadline arbitrarily set by the prime minister.
The statement is odd because it is unattributed: press statements are normally made in the name of Ministries, or the Office of the Prime Minister, or other government entities – yesterday’s statement was merely attributed to the ‘Government of Malta’.
It was a short statement. Yet in its 52 words, it is packed with cryptic threats: it accuses the judges of having appropriated the “power to extend the terms of the inquiry indefinitely”, and then asserts that the “Board would have to carry responsibility for its decision”.
The statement did not go into the rationale of the Board’s decree, nor did it make any cogent arguments on why the judges’ decision to keep hearing evidence is wrong.
In this sense, the statement is plainly intimidatory and it amounts to an attack on the independence of the judiciary.
It is the latest outburst in orchestrated attacks on the public inquiry by the former and present prime ministers. Robert Abela even revealed a few months ago that the two retired judges on the Board were being paid €4,000 monthly, insinuating that they had an interest in prolonging the inquiry to make more money.
The two retired judges – Michael Mallia and Joseph Said Pullicino – preempted these base, personal attacks by stating last Monday that they would be renouncing payment for the rest of the duration of the inquiry. This showed their interest lies in achieving the aims of the public inquiry, in the hope that the country achieves some kind of wider justice, reform and closure.
It is hugely telling that instead of being humbled by their altruism, the government reacted by lashing out at them.
This latest attack, even though it’s the most menacing yet, follows a pattern of attacks on the public inquiry by key members of the government and Labour’s partisan media. This is undermining the inquiry before it even completes its work, and perhaps setting the stage for eventually ignoring its recommendations.
The main complaint within Labour is that the inquiry has been politicised by the lawyers of Caruana Galizia’s family – Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi – and it has become a wide, partisan attack on Labour in government. Irrespective of the intentions of the two lawyers who double as Opposition MPs, the inquiry is helpful because it is revealing systematic rot and the inability of Ministers – even those who claim to have been at odds with what went on – to take a stand against wrongdoing.
It is also similarly revealing a network of enablers in lower levels of the pecking order.
Although this is neither new nor unique to Labour, it is a weakness in our governance, and handicap of our troubled democracy, that allowed a few people at the core of power to form a close relationship with big business interests and then go on to capture and weaken the institutions of democracy and rule of law.
And that contributed to the assassination of a journalist – the crime itself happened in that context, not in a vacuum. In fact, an argument can be made that the inquiry’s focus is not as wide as it ought to reveal more of the even broader context.
The only way to ensure that this does not happen again is to allow the full truth to come out and to carry out comprehensive reforms.
The reforms that have been carried to date, although laudable, have been fragmentary and insufficient. In fact, parts of the constitutional and legal reforms initiated last summer have been rendered impotent by loopholes – and the government has no intention of closing these loopholes.
The government has been rushing through legal amendments and reforms that are at best poorly designed and at worst in bad faith, acting under pressure to tick the boxes in the run-up to the decision by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval next spring on whether to ‘greylist’ Malta, the first EU country facing such censure.
The most recent move in this regard is the Bill on regulating the legal profession presented in parliament earlier this month – the Bill does nothing to raise standards and accountability among lawyers.
All of this shows that the quest for reform, justice and accountability remains long, complex and uncertain.