Prime Minister Robert Abela’s latest position on initiating a public inquiry into the death of Miriam Pace echoes that of his predecessor, disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who was reluctant to establish a similar inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Miriam Pace, 54, was crushed under the rubble of her Hamrun home in March last year as a result of excavation works next door to her home. Her family has again asked Abela to open a public inquiry into her death following the publication of an expert report on reform of the construction sector.
The family has said the report confirms that the institutions “failed in their obligations to safeguard the lives of third parties” and “confirms the family’s belief that a public inquiry should be launched right away”. They also said they had received no response to similar requests in the past.
Abela had initially chosen not to publish the report, put together by experts he had assigned, but this decision was slammed by Pace’s family. Abela then tabled the report in Parliament last week.
In a statement on Monday, a legal representative for the Pace family said that they wanted a parliamentary motion calling for a public inquiry as soon as possible so that the family could “learn the reasons why calls for a public inquiry are being ignored”. The motion was tabled by the Opposition a month after Pace’s death.
Yet Abela told journalists that he would not be launching an inquiry so as not to risk interfering with the ongoing criminal proceedings against four men – two of them are architects charged with involuntary homicide for Pace’s death.
If such an investigation is conducted “in parallel, you will definitely have the four accused, or one of them, claiming that you are influencing the hearing,” he said. The prime minister insisted he wanted to “preserve the judicial process”.
“When institutions are functioning, you cannot just take their work away from them and place it in a public inquiry,” Abela added.
This position echoes that of Muscat – between 2017 and 2019 he similarly refused to launch a public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia despite repeated requests from the family, international organisations, and the Council of Europe. It is an international obligation.
Muscat had used the same argument as Abela to stall the launch of the public inquiry saying it may affect the outcome of ongoing judicial proceedings, and that such an inquiry would only be considered after ongoing police and magisterial investigations were concluded.
“I will not be the one responsible for a public inquiry destroying the case against the three accused,” he had said in June of 2019 after a resolution was reached by the Council of Europe calling for an inquiry within three months.
The Caruana Galizia public inquiry, which is set to resume on Friday, has heard some 100 testimonies so far, and has provided insight into serious shortcomings in various institutions, as well as concerns about political involvement, systemic corruption, and attempts to pervert the course of justice by shielding those involved from scrutiny.
The Special Rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Pieter Omtzigt, had said of the inquiry’s findings: “In a few months, the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry has done more to expose the corruption, misgovernment and criminal conspiracies that plagued Malta at the time of her death than all of the endless, opaque and ineffectual magisterial inquiries put together”.
Abela’s stand on the public inquiry into Miriam Pace’s death comes as no surprise in view of his recent announcements on the Caruana Galizia inquiry. In December, Abela refused to extend the deadline, which led the board of inquiry to offer to relinquish their honorarium for service to the country.
“The research for truth should never be subjected to arbitrary and unilateral termination which could condition the conduct of who may be called to judge,” the board said.