The parliamentary Ombudsman has just tabled in the House of Representatives his final opinion, together with all relevant supporting documents, on complaints by six Armed Forces of Malta officers in the rank of major about the process employed in their regard for selection to the rank of lieutenant colonel in September 2013.

The year 2013 was the time when the government chose to play fast and loose with promotions in Malta’s armed forces. Soon afterwards the then commander was replaced by somebody who until a fortnight before was only a major but found himself catapulted to brigadier without relevant experience.

This decision is possibly the most damning report of maladministration by a Maltese Ombudsman since the establishment of the office in 1995. He found that the selection process was “vitiated” (corrupted). It lacked integrity and was “a process tailor-made to achieve a pre-ordained result”. The Ombudsman concluded that “the selection process was conducted in an unprofessional manner… did not achieve the necessary rigour… two persons of trust [the minister’s deputy chief of staff and his head of customer care] were appointed on the board… that military officers and officials specialising in military affairs were missing [the board only had one military officer]... all militate towards… the view that the selection process was a screen for the choices made”.

It beggars belief that civil servants with absolutely no knowledge of military matters should have been placed in the position of appointing military officers for promotion to positions where, as the Ombudsman states, “officers have the grave responsibility of administering and commanding the army in defence of the country’s security… They must be prepared to defend their country and... they must be of the highest order”.

The art of military command is unlike any other. It requires a combination of inspired leadership and mature judgement in the direction, coordination and control of military forces, often operating under the most adverse conditions. Confidence in the quality of future army leaders who will be responsible for men’s lives has been undermined by this botched selection process.

It is vitally important that the Armed Forces of Malta are well led, professionally managed, politically untainted and non-partisan, as it had been under three previous prime ministers: Eddie Fenech Adami, Alfred Sant and Lawrence Gonzi. All the good work that has been painstakingly built up over the last 32 years to turn the army into a professional force has been undermined by heavy-handed political interference.

The Ombudsman concludes thus: “The selection of army officers at any level but especially at the level of command, calls for a strong, robust and impartial selection process.”

The Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Michael Farrugia, disagrees with the  report. His response runs to 131 paragraphs.

Members of the House of Representatives should read it, if only as an example of how a minister deploys specious and self-serving arguments knowing well that the facts adduced are overwhelmingly against him. His comments reflect the stubborn efforts made by him and his predecessor, Manuel Mallia, over the last six years to resist the outcome which logic told them was inevitable.

Dr Farrugia must now comply with the Ombudsman’s recommendation that all necessary steps to redress the injustices committed are taken.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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