The change we demand

Public inquiries lead to lasting reforms, so why not Malta?

 

One of the most revealing comments about Malta was made last month during the debate following the presentation of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee’s report on its mission to Malta to the European Parliament.

MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield observed that the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia seems to have had more of an impact on them, the MEPs, than in Malta and that “the trauma doesn’t seem to exist [in Malta].”

Today marks 58 months since Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally assassinated by a car bomb a few metres away from her home.

It’s easy to see why the MEP would form such an impression. It has been five years since journalist Caruana Galizia’s assassination, a year since the board of the public inquiry into her death published its conclusions and recommendations, and three months since the media expert committee set up by the government sent back its comments on proposed media legislation – which the government is “analysing”.

Kicking the issue into the long grass

All this foot-dragging is symptomatic of a tactic often used by the government when it does not want to tackle an issue: ignore the matter for long enough and it may eventually be forgotten, overtaken by the next scandal.

After all, it should logically follow that the government, having fiercely resisted setting up the inquiry in the first place, will now resist implementing the recommendations.

This may be the overall attitude towards the public inquiry in Malta, but in other countries, a public inquiry like the one set up to assess the role of the Maltese State in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination invariably carries weight.

The public inquiry into the circumstances of Caruana Galizia’s assassination was set up in December 2019 and was meant to be grounded on Malta’s obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death is independent and effective.

This holds especially true if there is a possibility of state culpability for the death or of a system failure in preventing it. Under Maltese domestic law the prime minister or, indeed, any minister, has the power to order such a public inquiry.

Broadly speaking, a public inquiry in Malta shares many similarities with public inquiries conducted in the UK, which, unlike in Malta, are very much a feature of modern UK politics.

In the UK, public inquiries are initiated and funded by the government but are run independently. They begin by fleshing out the terms of reference and each inquiry is led by a panel presided by a chairperson.

The choice of the chair lies with the minister who initiates the inquiry, and the tendency is to favour judges or persons whose professions enjoy a high degree of trust among the British public, such as scientists, social workers, doctors and engineers.

Examples of impact

What is markedly different in the UK is that a number of these public inquiries have led to valuable legislative and institutional change.

UK public inquiries have addressed a variety of issues deemed to be of “public concern”, such as transport accidents, fires – such as the Grenfell Tower disaster – the mismanagement of pension funds, deaths in custody, and even decision-making that leads to war.

In some cases, the public inquiries had a profound effect on behaviours and attitudes, such as in the case of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, which helped to establish the concept of ‘institutional racism’ within the public consciousness.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered on 22 April 1993 in an unprovoked racist knife attack. The inquiry into his murder uncovered major failings in the police investigation and in the way Stephen Lawrence’s family and his friend Duwayne Brooks were treated by the authorities.

Another well-known public inquiry was led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, triggered following public revulsion in 2011 after reporters from the now defunct News of the World hacked the phone of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler.

The Leveson Inquiry spent more than a year gathering evidence and hearing witnesses. It examined media law, regulation and freedom of expression.

It probed the relations journalists have with politicians, celebrities, the police, media owners, and the public. The result was a huge resource shedding light on the whole press industry in the UK.

Of course, public inquiries in the UK are not perfect. They have often been criticised for being slow, for taking too long to publish their findings, for their cost, and sometimes the inquiries did not secure lasting change because the follow-up process was inadequate.

One way of changing this, as suggested by a think tank, would be to have a follow-up system in place, such as the requirement for the government to explain how it is responding to inquiry recommendations systematically.

The importance of ankle-biting the government

A similar observation on the importance of follow-up is included in the analysis published jointly by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation and Article19 which evaluated the structure, efficacy, and recommendations of the public inquiry itself.

The report notes that while the board made several recommendations across several fields, it did not lay down a timetable within which those recommendations should be implemented.

In their conclusions, they also note how European institutions and civil society “must continue to maintain close scrutiny of the [implementation] process” or risk losing the opportunity to fulfil the promise of meaningful reform presented through the public inquiry’s recommendations.

We might be tempted to think there are bigger, more pressing problems in Malta than implementing the public inquiry’s recommendations, but the recommendations, including those addressing financial crimes and corruption, remain crucial for the meaningful legislative reform that Malta needs.

The resulting changes, which will be slow and will require persistence, in the long run, will affect us all.

                           
                               
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Francis Said
Francis Said
1 month ago

Unfortunately the real reason behind all this is one. True democracy as we know it is no longer pertinent of this government of sorts.
Moral and mobile principles, that our forefathers have fought for are no longer part of our lives.
What a pity.

adriang
adriang
1 month ago

There is only one reason why this does not happen in Malta. It is that legislators themselves that are the perpetrators and enablers of such crime – for their own advantage and benefit.
Such inquiries therefore only serve for them to be more careful, and to ensure loopholes are kept open, so that they can continue serve themselves.

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