Former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar threw away the rule book when selecting assistant commissioners. Rather than follow Public Services Commission procedures around seniority and experience, the country’s top cop chose to promote people he trusted personally.
His cavalier dismissal of established rules in 2016 resulted in protests being filed with ombudsman Anthony Mifsud by those who felt they’d been deliberately overlooked.
The ombudsman agreed with their claims, describing the process as “defective”.
Superintendent Raymond D’Anastas, a man with an impeccable track record and four decades of service, was passed over in favour of Mario Tonna, an officer with a long history of disciplinary proceedings — including allegedly harassing a superior in 2008 — and a guilty verdict in a criminal case.
Tonna should have been turfed from the force, but he was given a conditional discharge. He got himself back on promotion track after Labour was elected to power, applying for superintendent in August 2015. His dismal record should have automatically disqualified him from the selection process for assistant commissioner. But hey, Lorry Cutajar trusted him.
Tonna would be forced to resign in January 2018 after allegedly head-butting his wife in a drunken argument. He was acquitted of domestic abuse when the main witness refused to testify. A couple of months later, the beleaguered ex-cop on a bender allegedly sped off after smashing into several cars. He was acquitted then, too, despite allegedly failing a breathalyzer test.
Lawrence Cutajar threw away the rulebook and acted on instinct. Far from ensuring transparency, the selection board he chaired had failed to give a detailed explanation as to why certain individuals were chosen while others were not.
It sounds like a clear cut case of injustice, doesn’t it? The same sort of corrupt promotion process that fast-tracked Joseph Muscat’s friend to the head of the Armed Forces.
“Had the selection process been done properly,” the ombudsman’s report said, “excluding certain people who were not the right ones for the job, maybe the complainant would have stood a chance of being chosen.”
Cutajar was a career bumbler, a man noted for conspicuous inaction when it came to top level corruption. His utter failure to do anything about the Panama papers despite being handed an evidence-filled report by former FIAU head Manfred Galdes turned him into a national disgrace.
His decision to eat rabbit with his buddies while Ali Sadr walked away with two bulging bags believed to contain damning evidence of Malta’s most heinous political scandal made him into a laughing stock.
Angelo Gafa was Robert Abela’s answer to all that. One of the first actions he took as prime minister was to ask for Cutajar’s resignation.
Unfortunately, the no-longer-new police commissioner is proving to be a chip off the old blockhead.
Gafa and Home Affairs Ministry permanent secretary Kevin Mahoney responded to the ombudsman’s report by dismissing it. The entire promotion process had adhered to Public Service Commission procedures, they wrote. But they’ll think about issuing a fresh call for applications for the post as recommended by the ombudsman.
In case the implications are not blindingly clear, I’ll spell it out for you. Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa is dismissing the ruling of an independent institution established by the constitution because he personally disagrees with its findings.
He’ll decide how and when the law applies to his police department, thanks very much. But don’t worry, the institutions are functioning (more or less).
In the meantime, money is still being thrown hand over fist into the fiscal black holes of Electrogas and Vitals, despite detailed evidence of rampant corruption that’s been public for years.
There’s no sign of criminal investigations, and the politicians involved continue to walk free. It isn’t even enough to be named in connection with a bank robbery by a career-criminal-turned-State’s-witness.
Gafa promised imminent arrests in the case of the notorious Pilatus bank, a dodgy enterprise seemingly set up to launder money on a massive scale, and then months passed with nothing to show for it. When charges were finally filed, police indicted Claude-Anne Sant Fournier, the bank’s former Head of Compliance.
What of the directors? What of owner Ali Sadr? Not a whisper.
The police commissioner can’t even seem to clean up his own tarnished house. Heard much about the notorious police traffic cop scandal lately? Me neither.
Like his inept puppet predecessor, Comissioner Gafa seems to be sitting on all the same cases, taking action against the small fry only when action has become unavoidable.
The untouchables remain untouchable — at least, in Malta. And so the nation is collectively punished for the impunity established by the twice-elected Joseph Muscat and his chosen successor.
The Council of Europe sent a special rapporteur to figure out what was going on with the EU’s stubborn problem child. Rule of law missions were dispatched, and dismissed. When the country’s law enforcement officials refused to clean up the rot — because that would involve prosecuting top politicians — the international financial world responded with further isolation.
Malta was grey listed by the FATF, listed as a high-risk terrorist financing and money laundering threat by the UK, cut off from US dollar correspondent banking networks, and its main bank was abandoned by Mastercard. Unfortunately, the problems are only beginning.
Angelo Gafa could stop at least some of the fallout by showing a willingness to prosecute crooked politicians, dirty cops, and civil servants on the take. Instead, he seems to be shielding the very same people Joseph Muscat placed above the law, including the former prime minister himself.
His cavalier dismissal of the ombudsman reveals that he doesn’t even feel bound to follow the law when it comes to running his own department.