Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà was conspicuous by his absence on Tuesday when Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, pleaded guilty to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Muscat was also given a presidential pardon in connection with the 2015 fatal shooting of lawyer Carmel Chircop.

Instead, Prime Minister Robert Abela called a press conference during prime time on TV to brag about how the rule of law prevails and the institutions work on his watch. But that is another issue.

Muscat has been wanting to spill the beans since at least April 2018. He has been trying to obtain some form of immunity since then but, for some reason, the authorities would not play ball. Until now, that is.

The people would have liked to hear the police commissioner explain what led to this ‘development’ without, of course, compromising investigations on present and future court proceedings. Gafà is experienced enough to know how to navigate such situations.

So it should have been the police commissioner facing the public on Tuesday and not the prime minister. Gafà appeared last night, a day late.

This is a criminal investigation, not a political PR exercise. Abela would like us, Moneyval and the rest, to believe that “the institutions are working” and that the prime minister is letting go of his discretionary powers.

Instead, this is another reminder that the strings between Castille and the police are far from having been severed in this case. Doubts linger.

Just days ago, after the police arrested a couple allegedly found smoking cannabis in a hotel room, Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola tweeted: “Are we really still charging teenagers for smoking a joint? If only we went after the corrupt with the same fervour our country might just move forward...”

She hit a raw nerve. The Achilles heel of the police is how they have been operating over the past few years. Save for few exceptions, they have long had a reputation for being subjected to the executive branch of power.

What happened this week can help Gafà and his dedicated, hard-working men and women win back the confidence and admiration they deserve. This depends, of course, on how he deals with this new chapter in the Caruana Galizia case.

The fact that Muscat has pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison means he can now testify. He can corroborate or otherwise evidence the investigators already have in their possession and, who knows, even offer something new.

If the long arm of the law continues to appear twisted, then public trust in the police force will be that much harder to come by

However, this also means the pressure is mounting on the police to make more significant progress in the Bidnija case, and others, too. The expectations are now higher.

Caruana Galizia’s family was right when it expressed the hope that Muscat’s guilty plea would serve as a step towards full justice finally being done.

Granted, some criminal cases are difficult and complex to handle. It gets even more complicated when there are political implications or, worse, suspects include people who are able to wield some form of power, as in the Caruana Galizia murder.

Which is another reason why Gafà should put his foot down, even with his political masters, and insist he alone should do the talking when dealing with major criminal investigations or developments.

More importantly, he has to prove in a tangible way that he is leaving no stone unturned to bring to justice any crooks in the corridors of power.

If the long arm of the law continues to appear twisted, then public trust in the police force will be that much harder to come by.

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