Two years ago, the government embarked on a project to revise the Freedom of Information Act, intended to guarantee the public’s right to access information, but the €18,000 report it commissioned remains unpublished, and Justice Minister Jonathan Attard is adamant on keeping it that way.
The report was commissioned after pressure from international bodies such as the Council of Europe because the law is woefully inadequate in guaranteeing its stated aim. Despite its completion two years ago, ready with an accompanying draft Bill to be presented to Parliament, the report has been gathering dust.
The Shift was forced to file a Freedom of Information request after the justice minister refused to answer questions on why the report has not been made public and why the recommendations have not yet been implemented.
In an ironic twist of events, instead of being more transparent about a law ensuring accountability and good governance, the Maltese government has refused to comply and shot down the request – twice.
Denying a Freedom of Information request on reform of the Freedom of Information Act is a prime example of the benefit for the government in retaining an inadequate law in the face of international criticism.
And while the law is weak, the government continues to weaken it further by regularly exceeding the limits of what the State can keep from publishing.
Justice Minister Jonathan Attard, himself a former reporter for the Labour Party’s television station and a communications coordinator for former economy minister Chris Cardona, denied The Shift’s FOI request saying the document cannot be made public.
“There is good reason for withholding the document,” the ministry replied.
“A document is exempt as its disclosure under the FOI Act would disclose matter in the nature of, or relating to, opinions, advice or recommendations obtained, prepared or recorded, or consultation or deliberation that has taken place, in the course of, or for the purposes of, the deliberative process involved in the functions of the government or another public authority,” the ministry added.
The report was completed two years ago.
The Shift is informed that the law firm commissioned, Aequitas Legal, also prepared a draft Bill for the law’s amendment to be presented to Parliament.
The government’s refusal to move forward with the amendments is in line with its general approach to transparency and the public’s right to know.
Independent scrutiny by journalists is quashed, with the government preferring to spend large sums of public money on buying narratives to suit its purpose.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has adopted even stricter methods than his predecessor, disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat. His interviews are limited to the compromised public broadcaster or the Labour Party’s channels.
Despite employing an army of spokespersons, the government rarely addresses scrutiny from journalists, often ignoring independent journalists entirely in favour of those who toe the line.
In an interview with The Times of Malta in 2021, Information and Data Protection Commissioner Ian Deguara insisted that it was time to change the FOI, saying his office had sent its submissions to the government.
When international press freedom organisations visited Malta last October and enquired about progress made, they were met with a wall of silence.
Meanwhile, the government is using the law meant to guarantee transparency to stifle and oppress independent newsrooms instead.
The government has launched 40 appeals against decisions by its own appointed bodies – the Information and Data Protection Commissioner and the Appeals Tribunal – that have ruled the freedom of information requests filed by The Shift were in the public interest and that the information should be granted.
Instead of publishing the information, the government has deployed some 80 lawyers in 40 cases against The Shift to stop the publication of information.
Eleven international organisations are backing The Shift’s campaign to reform the FOI Act to ensure the public’s right to know. The OSCE has also drawn the government’s attention to the need for reform.
Who are the 80 lawyers ?
Everyone and anyone connected to the Labour Party. Apart from gems like Charlon Gouder and Joe Gerada, the Labour Party’s President, Ramona Attard, even turned up in one of the cases. If that doesn’t show a coordinated campaign by the Party in government to silence us, I don’t know what does.
The 80 lawyers should be named and shamed.
40 SLAPP suits against THE SHIFT NEWS, that’s like me being sued by 40 policemen individually for a minor traffic violation.
It is true that in any democracy only one lawsuit is allowed.
Here in Malta this is probably not the case.
The question must be asked whether this is still a democracy.
The question must also be allowed as to why the overworked courts here are not able to choose a different approach such as a summary in a lawsuit.
It is indisputable that ROBBER Abela is directly responsible for the ineffectiveness of the courts.
It’s not the same. We committed no violation. We filed requests according to law. The government is challenging decisions by its own appointed bodies.
Yes! You are right. – My point was to point out the insanity here.
If at all, only a maximum of one lawsuit should have been accepted at court, in order to explain then that the court is not responsible for it. Also it goes here around a kind of law bending.
By the way:
In the USA, Donald Trump has now been fined an incredibly high amount for his stupid lawsuits.
If this also happens in Malta, then it would be only too fair!
Jekk TheShiftNews mhux se ssemmi min huma t-80 avukat li qed jagħtu palata lill-gvern minn butna kontra kamra tal-aħbarijiet li tiddependi fuq id-donazzjonijiet u l-fondi terzi… se nkun kostrett naghmel 40 FOI requests lill-gvern biex jelenkahom.
We wouldn’t want you to face the same expense. We’re compiling the list 🙂
Xi hmieg ta gvern korrott ghandna. Isthu korrotti w hallelin tal- haddiem onest.