A new mechanism to appoint the police commissioner after a public call appears to tally with the specific recommendations found in a report by constitutional experts on what is known as the Venice Commission.

As part of a raft of reforms designed to strengthen the rule of law in Malta, the Commission, a European Council body, sought to scale back the prime minister’s power when it comes to appointing a police chief.

Prime Minister Robert Abela this week announced a new process where the post of police commissioner will be filled after a public call for applications. Applications will be analysed by the Public Service Commission, who will then propose two candidates to the Cabinet.

Previously, the prime minister had sole discretion over who to appoint as police commissioner.

Malta is on its sixth police commissioner in seven years, as international scrutiny of the police’s work intensified following journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder and countless unresolved corruption cases.

The Venice Commissioner emphasised the need for a “public competition” prior to the appointment of a police chief.

“Therefore, in Malta, there should be a public competition for the post of police commissioner and the appointing authority (prime minister or president) should be bound by the results of the evaluation of that competition, even though they might have a power of veto against the candidate selected,” the Commission’s report said.

In one of its final conclusions about the rule of law reforms proposed in the report, the Commission said it was obvious that not only the texts matter, but also their implementation in good faith.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia accused the new prime minister of wanting to have his “own puppet” as police chief. He is instead demanding the introduction of a constitutional requirement for a two-thirds majority in Parliament to green light such high-ranking and sensitive posts.

In a Times of Malta Talking Point, legal expert Kevin Aquilina argued that the government’s proposal may well abide by the letter of the Venice Commission’s recommendation, but not the spirit.

“The main thrust of the Venice Commission’s report was that the prime minister currently enjoys exorbitant powers in the appointment of public officers and other public sector officials and that these powers should be reduced, not retained or augmented.

“Hence, the prime minister should preferably not be involved at all in the appointment process of the commissioner of police.”

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said the government’s proposals not only respected what was said by the Venice Commission, but went a step further.

Writing in Times of Malta on Friday, Dr Camilleri said the government introduced additional scrutiny through the parliamentary appointments committee.

“I must point out that the chosen candidate will be facing the scrutiny of not only elected representatives but also of the public as they can also follow the grilling while proposing possible questions to put forward by their MP,” Dr Camilleri argued.

He said the prime minister will also relinquish the veto right referenced in the Venice Commission report “to ensure that the process remains fair and untarnished throughout”.

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