The government has insisted there was “no wrongdoing” in an accelerated armed forces promotion process that the ombudsman ruled was “outright illegal” and benefitted the “favoured few”.

Asked why no action was ever taken on the ombudsman’s investigation, the Home Affairs Ministry’s head of secretariat, Joseph Vella cited a court ruling that he said proved the positions were filled “according to the law”.

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti ruled that despite being “dubious”, the court could not reach the conclusion that the accelerated promotions were illegal or unreasonable.

The matter revolves around the promotion of four officers, Pierre Vassallo, Mark Said, Mark Mallia and the present commander, Jeffrey Curmi, shortly after the 2013 election.

Until September 2013, Curmi was a major but was fast-tracked to the top of the AFM in four promotions in four months, becoming commander in December 2013. Mallia was made deputy commander on the same day.

The ombudsman concluded that the process was irregular, illegal, improper and discriminatory. It was the result of a “tailor-made process to achieve a pre-ordained result”.

He was ruling on a complaint filed by four lieutenant colonels, Karl Sammut, Albert Brincat, Ian Ruggier and Mario Borg, who have since left the AFM.

But ruling on the same promotions in a case filed in 2016 by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Mallia, the court concluded that although the accelerated promotions for Curmi and Mark Mallia were “dubious”, it could not say they were unreasonable.

In the case, Andrew Mallia pointed out that the officers were promoted to colonel just two weeks after being promoted to lieutenant colonel. The court found that Vassallo and Said had been occupying the role of lieutenant colonels since their promotion in July 2010.

Then commander Brigadier Martin Xuereb told the court he had no say in the matter, only learning about the promotions from a notice in The Malta Government Gazette.

Manuel Mallia, at the time home affairs minister and who the ombudsman concluded had ordered the promotions, told the court that a ‘Senior Ranks Appointments Advisory Committee’ had recommended the promotion of the individuals for the positions from major to lieutenant colonel. In the case of the promotion from colonel to brigadier, the choice was down to the minister alone.

The court said its remit was not to decide who should have been promoted or not but to decide whether there was any unreasonableness in the promotions, of which the court found none.

On the basis of qualifications, Curmi and Mark Mallia certainly deserved the promotion, the court said in its judgment last June.

It pointed out that evidence and the law, and not doubts and suspicions, were the basis for a court judgment. The judge could not base his decision on his opinion as to who should have been promoted.

The ministry said the ombudsman’s recommendation should be viewed in the light of the court judgment, which “contradicts the observations and conclusions made by the ombudsman and clearly demonstrates that the law was observed and respected”, Vella said.  

The judgment confirmed “there were no wrongdoings while proving that the mentioned promotions followed procedures in accordance to law. Any other allegation is incorrect”.

An appeal filed by Andrew Mallia is still pending.

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