AFM Commander asks for loyalty to him not country – army veteran tells his story

Ex-AFM Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Mallia speaks to The Shift about political intereference in the army


Andrew Mallia’s resolute demeanour, his conviction of right and wrong and his outspokenness are all the more impressive considering that he “served for exactly 25 years in every type of post imaginable” in a difficult environment at the Armed Forces of Malta, until he left after Joseph Muscat’s government placed Jeffrey Curmi as Brigadier in a process condemned by the Ombudsman.

“I was at sea aboard a variety of patrol vessels, in the Squadron Headquarters at Haywharf, deployed overseas on EU and FRONTEX missions in Libya and Greece, representing Malta in the EU and during discussions with international organisations, the General Staff at Luqa, and the Rescue Coordination Centre,” Mallia told The Shift in an interview.

A seaman at heart, Mallia maintains that “the pinnacle” of his career “remains those opportunities I had to take vessels to sea with a crew of dedicated professionals”.

“That was never easy but always immensely rewarding,” he added, describing his years of service as the kind of career in which “no two days were the same”.

Mallia, who now serves as an international maritime consultant, left the AFM four years ago. Like his colleague who also spoke to The Shift in February, former sergeant-major Anthony Grech, Mallia’s decision to leave his post was not easy.

Both Mallia and Grech faced the same issues stemming from mass promotions exercises overseen by the same individual – brigadier Jeffrey Curmi, whose meteoric four promotions in four months landed him the top spot at the AFM shortly after the Labour government first swept to power in 2013.

While Grech and several other officers had resorted to the Ombudsman’s office, Mallia began legal proceedings while still in the AFM. “Following the promotions in question, I requested, through my Commanding Officer, a meeting with the then Commander, Brigadier Martin Xuereb, to clarify what had happened,” Mallia explained.

“On being informed by Brigadier Xuereb that he had been unaware of these promotions until the moment they were published, I availed myself of the right given to commissioned officers to have my case reviewed by the President of the Republic,” he added, describing how he had also started legal proceedings in the First Court and is now appealing that verdict since his review request was later rejected.

Mallia explained how he had been summoned to Curmi’s office shortly after the current Brigadier was appointed deputy commander.

“When I was summoned, I was surprised to be informed by Curmi that he was going to be appointed Commander. He then asked if I was going to be loyal to him. I responded that I had no intention of being loyal to him personally in the same way as I had no personal loyalty to any of his predecessors,” Mallia stated.

“I explained that my loyalty was to the AFM and the country and that if I was of the professional opinion that something was detrimental to either of those, I would be speaking up. The meeting ended shortly after,” he added.

When asked why he felt that Curmi tried to elicit his loyalty, the ex-lieutenant colonel argued that Curmi’s whole leadership is based on personal rather than professional loyalty.

Although he expressed some reservations about pronouncing his opinion about the AFM’s status after his departure, Mallia did admit that it is “hard to block out the concerns being expressed”.

“What is most frustrating is that a number of us had flagged the impending crunch in manpower, but it appears little has been done to address it,” Mallia explained, referring to how “manning and retention have become major challenges for the AFM”.

“Some units, with maritime squadron being an example, seem to have a massive reliance on part-time reservists in order to function on a day-to-day basis,” he continued.

“One can argue why there is such a problem with human resources, but I have little doubt that policy decisions related to promotions, career progression and conditions of service play at least some role,” he added.

‘Discipline has been undermined’

In February, ex-sergeant major Anthony Grech had told The Shift about how “the overall discipline of the corps has gone downhill rapidly”. Echoing his former colleague’s concerns, Mallia was similarly critical.

“The most junior ranks have been given the ability to directly request a meeting with the Commander and Deputy Commander rather than having to work their way up the chain of command,” Mallia said.

“The excuse given for this arrangement was that certain officers were failing to refer such requests to higher authority when obliged to do so. Instead of ensuring that those officers executed their responsibilities correctly, the easy and populist way out was chosen,” he added.

Mallia disavowed the level of attention given to soldiers seeking to go around the chain of command, arguing that the chain is the basis of all the AFM’s capacity.

“Some people laud this as being a very personal way of leading. I think it is foolish: the AFM is a hierarchal organisation for a reason. To quote the famous film line, ‘they are there to protect democracy not to practice it’,” Mallia stated.

“Unfortunately, Armed Forces are like an insurance policy: you find out whether they are fit for purpose when something goes wrong”.

When asked about whether he has a message for soldiers still caught up within the AFM’s political troubles, Mallia said: “Just remember that you do not serve any particular individual or administration. You took an oath to serve the Republic of Malta and everything you do should be done in the interests of that service”.

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1 month ago

EU member by name alone.

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