Times of Malta

Anti-corruption fight can wait


The government continues to drag its feet in doing what it takes – and what experts recommend – to ensure the best possible anti-corruption measures are in place. The latest report by GRECO, the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption, makes that amply clear.

Adopted late last year, the report was only authorised by the government to be published just a few days ago.

The delay was probably meant to give the government some more time to make cosmetic changes. A lot more needs to be done in this “flawed democracy”, as Malta has been branded by Transparen­cy Internatio­nal.

A series of recommenda­tions had been adopted by GRECO in 2019. Not much happened and, in May 2022, Malta was given 18 months to come in line, but we remain in default, as this latest report clearly shows. No action at all was taken on nine recommenda­tions and another 10 were only “partly implemente­d”.

The government may want to hide – by delaying publicatio­n of the report – but it cannot run.

It may well argue it is its prerogativ­e when to authorise publicatio­n.

The home affairs ministry said Malta has adopted 61 per cent of the GRECO recommenda­tions. Of course, we, the people, have every right to give our interpreta­tion for such delays.

It is of concern that Malta continues to fail in some very sensitive areas, including issues raised by the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry and which the government continues to ignore.

This, notwithsta­nding a prime minister who told the European justice commission­er a year ago that, after going through “some difficulti­es” in terms of good governance, Malta had “learnt a lot”.

Robert Abela had described Malta’s greylistin­g by the Financial Action Task Force as a “rough patch”, adding that the fact that the country had come back in line in a short time indicated that the government takes the rule of law reforms seriously. In reality, the latest GRECO report shows that Abela is strong on rhetoric but weak when it comes to robust action on the ground.

“We mean business in tackling organised and financial crime,” he said during the meeting with the European commission­er.

“So far,” notes in sharp contrast the GRECO report, “no cases of investigat­ions into corruption offences involving PTEFs leading to conviction­s have been reported.”

For the record, PTEFS are persons entrusted with top executive functions and that includes ministers, heads/members of a minister’s private office, senior political officials, and political advisors.

GRECO further notes that no developmen­ts were made on developing an integrity strategy in respect of persons in top executive functions, “which is regrettabl­e”.

The introducti­on of ad-hoc disclosure of conflicts of interest and of clear rules governing side activities by persons in top executive functions “are at a complete standstill”.

There was nothing new to report, either, on the need to have laws allowing criminal investigat­ion bodies to seek and use special investigat­ive techniques when looking into corruption offences.

The police, we are reminded, continue to enjoy considerab­le prosecutor­ial functions in criminal proceeding­s, in parallel to the Attorney General’s Office, in contrast to what the Venice Commission proposed.

An ‘improved’ appointmen­t procedure of the attorney general may be in place but GRECO observes that “the executive branch still maintained considerab­le influence on this office, curtailing the necessary autonomy of the prosecutio­n”.

For Abela, however, measures to effectivel­y fight corruption can wait… a sound electoral victory is what matters most.

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