Not for four decades has the Malta Police Force been in such an abject state. It is leaderless, morale is low and virtually every day brings news of fresh scandals. The arrival of a new, well-qualified young candidate, Angelo Gafà, to lead the force cannot come soon enough.
The last seven years have exposed the fault-lines in police efficiency and effectiveness as never before. The latest developments in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case, and the way former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar appears to have handled the investigation, have cast fresh doubts on the force’s competence and trustworthiness.
It was a reputation already low following the high turnover of politically appointed commissioners of uniformly low calibre over the last seven years. Their handling of the Caruana Galizia assassination and the high-profile money-laundering cases, as well as the poor Moneyval assessment and, lately, rampant overtime abuse in the traffic police section, have simply reinforced the public’s lack of confidence in the corps.
The new commissioner’s overriding task will be to institute long overdue reforms of the state of leadership, training, morale and organisation of the force and to make far-reaching recommendations for its improvement.
If, as expected, Gafà’s appointment as commissioner is confirmed by the House of Representatives, he will be well-placed as the force’s recent CEO to focus on those organisational, leadership and training aspects that require urgent restructuring.
It is plain that a radical shake-up of the force is urgently required. But it is equally clear that the new commissioner cannot carry out the fundamental reorganisation needed on his own.
The steps to effect fundamental change (for example, the early retirement of dead wood or those whose competence is in doubt), are such that it will require considerable political will to succeed and the involvement of departments across government, including the Ministry of Finance.
The prime minister should appoint a small independent ‘Advisory Group to the Commissioner of Police’, reporting directly to him, to make periodic recommendations on the force and to obtain any necessary funding or other support needed to implement the deep-seated changes necessary.
It is a pity that the opposition has taken a hole-in-the-corner attitude to the new commissioner’s appointment when the national interest would be better served by adopting a more strategic and objective approach. The appointment process retains a measure of political input, in that the cabinet decides which of two candidates selected by the Public Service Commission to nominate to the House. The new procedure, however, represents great progress over full prime ministerial discretion.
The PN’s move will deprive citizens of their newly-given right, through their representatives in parliament, to subject the candidate to full scrutiny. It should reconsider its decision to boycott Gafà’s hearing.
Gafà should be asked about his priorities during his hearing and how he intends to tackle each.
Good morale is of the essence. He must begin by getting the message across to every man and woman in the corps that their contribution is valued and that he will work on their behalf to ensure this is recognised.
The operational effectiveness of the force must be raised.
The challenge will lie in achieving increased efficiency and public trust through outstanding leadership, excellent training, good organisation and command and control, better utilisation of resources at every level and fierce independence from politics.
There is a crucial need to restore citizens’ confidence in the leadership and operational effectiveness of the force.
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