The Office of the Prime Minister is insisting comments by the Foreign Minister on the launch of a public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder and those by the Prime Minister last month are “the same thing”.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had not committed to the three-month deadline set by the Council of Europe, unlike Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela who said the government’s position “is that [it] will abide by the timing that the Council of Europe dictated”.  

The inquiry would be intended to establish whether the journalist’s murder in October 2017 could have been prevented.

Fielding questions at a media freedom event in London on Thursday, Mr Abela said Dr Muscat was committed to establishing the public inquiry within the three-month deadline set by the Council of Europe.

The comments marked the first time any government minister had committed to a public inquiry.

However, more than a day after the minister made the comments, which also caught the eye of international media freedom activists, the government has yet to officially state its position on the matter. 

When contacted about this, a spokesman from the Office of the Prime Minister told Times of Malta “the Minister for Foreign Affairs simply reiterated the position made by the Prime Minister and government on June 27”.

On the day referred to by the spokesman, Dr Muscat had told journalists that he would be seeking advice on the matter and had pointed out that the Attorney General advised against holding a public inquiry during court proceedings against three men charged with the journalist’s murder. 

He did not make any mention of the three-month deadline, but had told journalists he would not “be the one responsible for a public inquiry destroying the case against the three accused of the journalist’s murder”. 

When it was pointed out that the Prime Minister had made no mention of the three-month deadline in his reply, the spokesman said: “Dr Muscat and the minister said the same thing since the PM is referring to the said report and its relevant conclusion, pending consultations with the Council of Europe”.

Meanwhile, asked to also clarify the matter, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry said she could not say whether questions sent would be answered as these had to be “run by [her] superiors”. These questions re-mained unanswered.

Simply reiterated the position made by the Prime Minister

In the wake of the minister’s comments on Thursday, civil society activists Repubblika questioned why an announcement had not yet been made by the government. 

The fact that the public inquiry was announced through a remark by the Foreign Minister was “another symptom of the government’s insensitivity towards such a serious case”, it said. 

“We expect the government to formally and publicly reply to the lawyers of the family of Ms Caruana Galizia updating its previous reply which turned down a request for a public inquiry,” the activists went on.

The inquiry should be led by “competent and impartial” people who have the time to focus exclusively on it.

“Repubblika insists the government should clarify minister Abela’s comments immediately, formally and in detail.”

PN, PD react

On its part, the Nationalist Party noted that the government had finally found the will to do what it should have done as soon as Ms Caruana Galizia was killed. 

It said it expected the inquiry board to be apolitical for the rule of law to be implemented.

The government, it went on, had been dragging its feet and while shirking its responsibilities it had destroyed Malta’s reputation in the Council of Europe.

Partit Demokratiku also welcomed the announcement, saying it was essential for the public inquiry to be free from any outside influence and given as broad a remit possible to be in a position to deliver truth and justice.

On Friday, Dutch MP Peter Omtzigt, who wrote the Council of Europe report on Malta, welcomed the government’s undertaking to carry out a public inquiry into the background to Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder.

“This inquiry should be conducted by a truly independent panel, chaired by a retired or international judge and including trusted representatives of civil society with no political or government links,” Mr Omtzigt said. 

“It should concentrate on how this assassination could have been prevented, how similar murders can be avoided in the future and what needs to be done to ensure that cases of high-level corruption such as those disclosed by Daphne Caruana Galizia are properly investigated without journalists having to risk their lives,” he added.

“Carried out in this way, it will not impinge on the ongoing criminal investigations.”