Three weeks after former AFM Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi officially began his new role as the CEO of Transport Malta, the Armed Forces remain rudderless, without any officially appointed replacement for Curmi, multiple sources have confirmed.
The Shift is informed that following Curmi’s move to the transport regulator, what would usually be a straightforward handover from one brigadier to the next has instead been bogged down by bitter infighting.
Curmi’s stint as Brigadier was marred by the multiple mass promotions to bring him up to rank – the subject of an investigation by the office of the Ombudsman that confirmed an “outright illegal” process, a culture of political interference and personal loyalties trumping the AFM’s chain of command.
As things stand, sources confirmed that up to Monday, no appointments for acting commander had been made, meaning that the AFM does not have anyone vested with the powers of a commander and that the only person currently at the helm is deputy commander Clinton O’ Neill.
However, sources noted that, especially in terms of disciplinary procedures, the deputy commander does not have the same powers that the commander would have, meaning that the absence of Curmi’s successor translates to a serious security breach that jeopardises the chain of authority that is supposed to govern the AFM.
“The minute one resigns, he should be giving a handover to the next. It should happen immediately – when Brigadier Maurice Calleja had resigned, Gaffiero, his replacement, was appointed immediately,” one source told The Shift.
“This is a vacuum that cannot be left unattended. The country cannot afford to have that. Technically, the armed forces should serve the government like a ‘Joker’ card in a deck of cards: when needed, they should be used,” they added, referring to the issue as “a serious lack of good governance”.
As for the successors in question, sources referred to two names leading the race to become the AFM’s next top brass: Colonel Michael Cardona and Lieutenant-Colonel Etienne Scicluna.
Further investigations revealed that Scicluna in particular is politically well-connected – he is the cousin of Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg, and his wife is the cousin of the wife of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
When sources were asked to explain why the process to appoint a new brigadier became so complicated, both pointed to the fact that Curmi and his former deputy, Mark Mallia, stopped serving the AFM within just a few weeks of each other. While Curmi was appointed CEO of Transport Malta, Mallia was given a similar posting as CEO of Identity Malta with a €100,000 per year salary.
Given that Mallia stopped serving before Curmi, the appointment of the current deputy commander, O’ Neill, was seen by many within the armed forces as a placeholder. O’ Neill’s appointment took place immediately, a marked difference from the ongoing tussle behind the scenes.
While there are no specific provisions in the law or the AFM’s standing orders that stipulate how the handover process should be carried out, army veterans believe the appointment should be the prerogative of both the home affairs ministry and the office of the prime minister.
“When Brigadier Calleja had resigned, the precedent was set with Gaffiero’s immediate appointment. In this case, since it was already known that Curmi was going to retire, the plan should have been settled a long time ago. There are serious deficiencies here, and there must be a huge rift to cause it,” one source said.
The home affairs ministry did not respond to The Shift’s questions regarding the lack of a successor for Curmi, nor did it respond to questions about the reasons for such a delay.