Echoing concerns: 3 high profile reports on Malta’s rule of law in 2 days

Three analyses on the rule of law in Malta from different European bodies were made public between Tuesday and Wednesday, all probing what developments have been made in the country since the 2017 assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

While the reports vary in size with regards to their scope, – some being more extensive than others – they focus on the same institutional issues – with some damning observations and recommendations echoing, and therefore strengthening, each other.

On Tuesday morning, the Council of Europe’s (COE) anti-corruption watchdog – GRECO -published its report on progress since issuing its Fifth Round Evaluation Report on Malta in 2019. Just a few hours later, a provisional report on the honouring of membership obligations by Malta was published by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The following day, a press conference was held by six Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the civil liberties committee (LIBE), following their mission to Malta to investigate progress made following the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The Shift highlights some of the main issues highlighted by the investigative bodies.

The glaring gap between ‘on paper’ and ‘in practice’

In general, all three different probing bodies noted that the Maltese government has put in place a number of positive reforms over the past few years. Yet any improvements on a practical level remain to be seen.

“Most of these measures and initiatives are still to be implemented in practice and several significant shortcomings are yet to be addressed,” GRECO wrote in its report.

This jarring reality between what is written on paper and what is done in practice was reiterated in the PACE report, which stated that the perception of corruption in Malta is high “despite the fact that Malta has on paper an impressive arsenal of public institutions involved in checks and balances”.

And at the press conference on Wednesday, Italian MEP Franco Roberti did not mince his words: “We need a change in mentality, otherwise things won’t change. Maybe there will be reforms on paper but it won’t be implemented,” the anti-mafia prosecutor stressed.

The need for urgency

All three bodies expressed concern about the government dragging its feet, arguing for the need for more urgency.

GRECO’s report highlighted how Malta has only “satisfactorily” implemented two of its 23 recommendations, and a national anti-corruption strategy is yet to be see the light of day. Meanwhile, PACE noted how there has been “little visible response” with regards to allegations of corruption.

At the press conference at the end of the MEP delegation’s visit to Malta, Roberti slammed the lack of initiative by the government, telling the press that the impression he got was that the reforms done in Malta were done “because Malta couldn’t not do it.”

“We got the impression that without that pressure nothing would have been done,” he said.

MEP Sophie in’t Veld said the committee got the feeling that “while many of the fundamental changes persist, the sense of urgency has been lost.” She said the “overall message” from the mission is that although a reform process has been launched, it “lacks pace, lacks speed and some are half-hearted.”

“We reiterate the urgent need to step up the pace of reforms and see them through completely,” she added.

This sense of urgency was especially highlighted with regard to resolving the “excruciatingly slow justice” system. “Justice delayed is justice denied. This applies to everyone. I don’t know what obstacles there are to prosecution, but this is really a top priority,” in’t Veld said, pointing specifically to the assassination case of  Caruana Galizia.

The need for “urgent” change was also highlighted by PACE, only a few hours earlier. “In the view of the Assembly, a comprehensive and holistic reform of Malta’s democratic institutions and system of checks and balances is still urgently needed,” the report said.

The resistance to scrapping ‘Golden Passports’

Both the LIBE Committee and the PACE report expressed ongoing concerns about Maltese authorities refusing to scrap the golden passport scheme.  Slovak MEP Vlado Bilčík insisted that Malta should not wait for a decision from the European Courts to end the scheme.

“It cannot be that Malta remains the only (EU) country still executing this scheme. They shouldn’t wait for a decision from the courts in Luxembourg,” he said. In’t Veld told the press that the government took note of the MEPs’ concerns, however “insists that the scheme is useful and will be continued”, which left the committee “disappointed”.

In its report, the Parliamentary Assembly also highlighted the scheme as “a particular issue of concern in relation to money laundering and corruption”.

Access to information

The situation of press freedom and the safety of journalists in Malta was also analysed in all three investigations. Two of the main recurring concerns linked to press freedom were Freedom of Information requests and financially-crippling SLAPP lawsuits.

GRECO’s report highlights the fact that its recommendation that the Freedom of Information Act of 2008 be subject to an independent and thorough analysis is still underway and has not yet been fulfilled.

The lack of revision of the Act was not the only criticism received. PACE ’s report also raised concerns regarding the implementation and enforcement of the Act.

“Many of the provisions of the Act are not enforced by the authorities, or only partially, and with such long delays that they render the information ineffective,” it said. In fact, PACE explained that their probe found that “most” of the media and civil society representatives that the Assembly met during its visit, as well as public institutions such as the Ombudsman, complained about the structural lack of follow-up to their requests for information.

“This is an issue of concern that should be remedied without delay. In this context, it is important to stress that this cannot be achieved by amending legislation alone, but also need a commensurate change of behaviour and a culture of transparency and openness,” it added.

The Assembly also labelled SLAPP lawsuits “an issue of increasing concern”. In’t Veld called for those who had initiated legal cases against Caruana Galizia to drop the case. “They don’t need to wait for legislation to do that, that would be the decent thing to do,” she said.

Disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat is among those still pursuing libel cases against a dead journalist, almost five years after she was assassinated on his watch.

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30 days ago

“It cannot be that Malta remains the only (EU) country still executing this scheme. They shouldn’t wait for a decision from the courts in Luxembourg,” is this true? I thought other countries were also benefiting from this shady scheme (i.e. Cyprus). If so, as a “foreigner”, I’d find that outrageous not only from a security point of view for the whole EU, but as well, unfortunately, not surprising

Ġwanni Fenek
Ġwanni Fenek
30 days ago
Reply to  Agustín

As far as I know, Cyprus recently dropped the scheme. Other countries still have residency programmes but they aren’t as transactional as Malta’s golden passports scheme.

30 days ago

A shyster prime minister ignores reality – what could go wrong?

Last edited 30 days ago by viv

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