Although the recommendations of the board of public inquiry investigating the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were published over a year ago, their implementation has been close to none, an exercise researching the action, or lack thereof, by The Shift on each key recommendation has found.
Of the 28 key recommendations, only one recommendation has been fully completed. Four have been addressed in an underwhelming manner, or have been only partially implemented, and the progress of three recommendations is unclear or unknown.
The remaining 20 recommendations (over two-thirds) have not been implemented despite the fact that international press freedom organisations, European Union bodies and the Caruana Galizia family have repeatedly stressed the significance of the recommendation’s full and urgent implementation.
Guided by the structuring of the recommendations by the inquiry board itself, and with the input of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, which has been keeping a close eye on the implementation process, The Shift divided the recommendations into three categories: recommendations to address moral damage, recommendations to improve the rule of law, and recommendations to improve the conditions of journalists and journalism in Malta.
When it comes to the state shouldering responsibility for “creating a culture of impunity” that the inquiry board found led to the assassination and apologising for the wrongs from the side of the government, Prime Minister Robert Abela has barely skimmed the surface.
The board of inquiry had recommended that the state should acknowledge its failings and “consider taking all the appropriate and opportune steps to ensure that the State reconciles with the assassinated journalist’s family in order to initiate the healing process of a serious and traumatic wound which the country suffered and is still suffering.”
In his speech following the publication of the findings and recommendations, Abela reconvened parliament for a debate, during which he acknowledged the inquiry report in broad terms. However, he rejected the board’s finding that the Labour government had fostered a climate of impunity, and failed to acknowledge the collective failure of the cabinet of ministers or that disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had been singled out in the report.
Abela also apologised to the family in his parliamentary speech. The Caruana Galizia family had accepted the apology, but stressed that there must be total accountability for all the failings identified – an appeal that remains to be lived up to.
The foundation noted to The Shift how the notion that Caruana Galizia’s murder was both predictable and preventable, and that the State failed on both counts is “not referenced, and much less entrenched in government discourse”.
Rule of law
One of the board’s opening recommendations states that the police, and all other regulatory authorities involved in investigating and prosecuting the assassination should continue with their investigation and identify all persons involved to “ensure they all answer for their deeds before the Courts”. The board acknowledged that this is being done. However, one year on, the case has not yet been closed, and trials are still to begin.
The board also articulated the need for the government to implement a host of other recommendations – namely those made by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and Venice Commission, as well as the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee. The full implementation of these other recommendations also raises questions about the pace at which they are being addressed and the commitment Abela has shown towards them.
GRECO revealed last May that Malta has only implemented “in a satisfactory manner” two out of the 23 recommendations it put forward in 2019. Moreover, prior to becoming Prime Minister in 2020, Abela had signalled he would not undertake the full scale of the Venice Commission’s proposed reforms.
The board’s other recommendations include the introduction of various crimes – such as criminalising the abuse of office, hindrance by public persons to the work of the police and other authorities, mafia associations and the obstruction of justice.
It had also suggested improving Malta’s criminal law and administrative practices to regulate financial institutions and prevent a “de facto state of impunity” from developing, combat the mentality that one can evade laws when holding a position of power and regulate relationships between the state and businesspeopleTheeh board additionally recommended introducing unexplained wealth orders and legislative provisions against public officials conducting their duties in an improper manner.
None of the above recommendations have been implemented in January, the Opposition also recommended some of the recommendations in a draft bill proposing anti-corruption, good governance and press freedom measures. These were, however, shot down by the government’s significant parliamentary majority.
The only box that can be ticked is the setting up of the committee of experts – which Abela implemented six months after it was recommended. And this too comes with its own controversies. Most recently, The Shift reported that Abela himself is in breach of the terms of reference for press freedom reform that he himself set.
The board’s recommendations when it comes to journalism include various laws and constitutional changes, namely a law that ensuring the profession of journalism is self-regulated; a constitutional amendment recognising an individual’s right to receive information from the state; the revision of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act; a revision of the Broadcasting Authority’s constitutional provisions; and the constitutional recognition of free journalism as one of the pillars of a democratic society, with the state being obliged to guarantee and protect it.
None of these, however, have been implemented one year on. Not only has the FOI Act not been revised, but it is also currently being steadfastly challenged in court.
The board had also recommended that in order to ensure journalists’ protection, the police should investigate serious allegations by journalists “in a timely manner”, be trained in the value of journalism and journalism techniques, identify and investigate the causes of risks to journalists (and others) in a timely manner, and initiate a formal structure in the police force in the form of a trained, specialised unit to identify persons at risk, with an element of the unit focusing on journalists at risk.
Since the publication of the recommendations, the police force has appointed a point of contact for journalists, however, it is up to the journalist to file police reports. Meanwhile, reports on major scandals still do not lead to prosecutions.
When it comes to addressing the problem of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), another of the board’s recommendations, Abela had pledged anti-SLAPP legislation in September 2021, however, the pledge is still to be transposed into law. The press expert committee submitted its feedback to the government on legal amendments drafted by Abela in June 2022.
Abela had failed to commit to a specific plan for the implementation of the board’s recommendations, and, as such, it is unclear when they will be implemented if at all. The Shift has asked Abela for a timeline on several occasions, however, the questions have been consistently ignored.