Robert Abela was understandably euphoric when Malta was removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s list of untrustworthy jurisdictions. Malta, he told journalists, “stands as an example to other jurisdictions”.
He spoke too soon. Within less than a month, his government would face heavy criticism from three institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee (LIBE) and the Maltese superior court – that left the prime minister badly bruised.
They all but completely demolished his talk of an exemplary jurisdiction.
The FATF found that Malta had made “significant progress” and “strengthened the effectiveness” of its anti-money laundering regime to combat the “strategic deficiencies” flagged last year. It did say, however, that it had more work to do.
In fact, while acknowledging that some action has been taken by Malta, both the European Commission and LIBE are far from happy with progress. They do not seem to trust the Maltese authorities that they are indeed delivering on their promises and commitments.
In its latest report on Malta, the European Commission notes, for example, there has been no progress to ensure consistent follow-up of Constitutional Court judgments declaring laws to be unconstitutional.
Brussels raises a number of other serious issues. The wheels of justice are slow.
The investigation of high-level corruption cases take too long and final judgments remain elusive. To be fair, the delays in the justice system have been a noose around the country’s neck for decades.
Both journalists and citizens have problems obtaining information from public entities. The independence and governance of public service media remain worrying. And a national human rights institution has yet to be set up. The MEPs sitting on the civil liberties committee declared they will “constantly monitor” the situation in Malta, particularly with regard to the rule of law. This warning, for that is what it is, must be seen against comments they made last May when a delegation had visited the island.
Malta’s rule of law reforms process, they remarked, “lacks pace and speed and some of the reforms are half-hearted and not complete”.
In its mission report, published just a few days ago, LIBE speaks of impunity afforded to key figures in the Joseph Muscat administration, and the “slow progress” made in the wake of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, especially the implementation of recommendations made by the public inquiry.
They also spoke of obstacles to media freedom and pluralism.
As it happened, this last point was raised by a superior court judge in a case which the Nationalist Party instituted against the Broadcasting Authority and PBS.
When the state sets up its broadcasting station, where it is a dominant player, it must provide the public with “impartial and precise information as well as an array of opinions and comments reflecting diverse political views in the country”, Mr Justice Grazio Mercieca ruled.
Pluralism, he said, is an important factor in terms of the right to freedom of expression, making an appeal for such a right to “no longer be trampled upon” though acknowledging that such comment “remains a solitary voice in the wilderness”.
Neither the voice of the judge nor that of the European Commission or LIBE should remain in the wilderness.
Much depends on Prime Minister Robert Abela to turn the web of corruption he inherited into a web of hope, even if that means a widespread changing of the guards.
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