Malta has fully implemented only 9% of measures being recommended for the improvement of integrity in top government positions and law enforcement and preventative measures against corruption, according to the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption’s (GRECO) 2022 annual report.
The report expressed concern about the public’s inability to access information in some of the evaluated states, noting how in some countries governments were still allowed to pick and choose which documentation and information it allows the public to access.
In Malta, the government has been under continuous and consistent criticism from several international press freedom organisations for its policies and practices that prevent the public’s right to information.
GRECO President Marin Mrčela said, “Governments should guarantee the overall principle of transparency of public documents in practice. Any exception to the rule of public disclosure should be limited to a minimum and be thoroughly justified.”
Such access to official documents, he said, “is key to effectively preventing corruption”.
The recommendations on top government officials and law enforcement are part of an ongoing fifth round of evaluations by GRECO on member nations which started in 2017.
A visual representation distilling Malta’s progress shows that it has fully and properly implemented 8.7% of the recommendations, with another 52.2% being partly implemented and 39.1% not implemented at all.
None of the recommendations on policy and conduct improvements for top government officials were fully implemented, with 40% being only partly implemented. Malta fared better with the implementation of recommendations for law enforcement, with 25% being fully implemented and the rest being partially fulfilled.
The evaluation is underway alongside the third and fourth rounds of assessment which started in 2007 and 2012 respectively. Member states are given country-specific recommendations in relation to the specific evaluation round’s topic.
The recommendations included in the fifth round of assessment focused on government officials with top executive functions (PTEFs) and law enforcement, covering anticorruption and integrity policy, transparency, conflicts of interest, codes of conduct, declarations of assets, and enforcement mechanisms.
GRECO issued recommendations for countries to adopt specific rules on how government officials should engage with lobbyists or third parties seeking to influence the public decision-making process.
The Council of Europe watchdog also recalled for countries to guarantee the transparency of public documents, noting that “there is still a broad margin of discretion for determining what is in the public domain and whether to exclude a certain document from free access. GRECO was concerned that some members were being restrictive in the application of Freedom of Information Acts (FoIA) requirements.”
With regards to conflicts of interest, GRECO called for “strict limitations” when it comes to gifts and favours “highlighting the risk of “favours” being exchanged in situations where relations between politicians and the business community become too ‘cosy’,” encouraging law enforcement “to be more proactive in dealing with suspected offences by PTEFs and start investigations on the basis of reasonable suspicion rather than irrefutable evidence.”
Last week The Shift reported how GRECO demanded for Malta’s “system of judicial accountability be significantly strengthened” in relation to the organisation’s fourth evaluation round relating to “Corruption Prevention in Respect of Members of Parliament, Judges and Prosecutors”.
In that instance, GRECO noted how the Maltese government appeared to be stalling on taking any kind of step to improve the transparency of complaints processes in the judiciary, with the rapporteurs complaining that the Maltese authorities had provided no new information on the matter.