The former chief of police is in the soup again. Lawrence Cutajar stood accused by many of indulging in rabbit stew as crucial evidence was possibly being tampered with at the notorious Pilatus Bank. He is also being investigated over claims he tipped off Daphne Caruana Galizia murder middleman Melvin Theuma on a money-laundering probe. His latest troubles stem from the promotion of police superintendents to the rank of assistant commissioner, a process he oversaw.

One of the superintendents eliminated, Raymond D’Anastas, felt he should have won promotion. In line with set procedure, he took his case before the public service commission. However, the PSC confirmed the decision of the selection board, then headed by Cutajar. The officer did not let the case drop and filed a formal complaint with the ombudsman.

In his decision, Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud was categoric: the procedure followed was vitiated and Cutajar led “a parody of a selection process”. The ombudsman recommended that a fresh call for applications should be issued and, in default, D’Anastas should receive €15,000 in moral damages.

In defending himself before the ombudsman, Cutajar had insisted he selected the people he trusted, to which Mifsud rightly pointed out this was not an exercise in choosing a person of trust. Rather, it was all about choosing an assistant police commissioner whose duty would not only be to protect and defend citizens and investigate offences against society but also to inspire trust.

Because of this, applicants with a criminal record should have been eliminated. Yet, one of the successful ones had brought the police force into disrepute and faced a series of disciplinary proceedings as well as a criminal case in which he was found guilty, the ombudsman observed.

Cutajar also defended his decision with Times of Malta, insisting the PSC had confirmed the selection. Either he had not yet read the whole ombudsman report or else did not fully comprehend it. For, at one point, the ombudsman noted that the PSC “was not impressed with ex-commissioner Cutajar’s performance”. True, ultimately, it did decide, for its own reasons, it should not revoke the result.

If Cutajar had a shred of credibility left, it has now completely evaporated

The former police chief insisted with the ombudsman there was no interference whatsoever in the choice of the candidates. This means the responsibility must fall squarely on him and on the other two members of the selection board. Their presence till the conclusion of the selection process can only be taken as tacit consent.

If Cutajar had a shred of credibility left, it has now completely evaporated.

It would be wrong to argue that D’Anastas should have automatically been promoted because of his long years of service and his track record, which includes being rewarded for his performance as head of the police district that includes the difficult Paceville hotspot. But the ombudsman report clearly shows that the superintendent and the other failed applicants, five of whom also took their case to the PSC, were treated unjustly.

Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà must lose no time in ordering action to right the wrongs perpetuated by his disgraced predecessor.

Adopting the recommendations made, not just for the sake of justice but also to give due recognition to the ombudsman’s decisions, is a good starting point. Putting the names of the two other members of the selection board on a blacklist and conducting a thorough revision of the whole selection process, roping in the PSC, must then follow.

Gafà is doing his level best to restore trust in the police force. This is an opportunity that he cannot let slip through his fingers.

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