Former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar led a “defective” selection process for the promotion of assistant commissioners in 2016, a fresh Ombudsman investigation has found.

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud found that Cutajar, who had already been found to have led “a parody of a selection process” over the same appointments, selected people based on personal trust rather than experience and seniority.

He was ruling in a case filed before him by former superintendent Carmelo Bartolo, who has since resigned from the force as a result of this “vitiated” process. 

The ombudsman’s ruling is similar to the one he handed down earlier this year in the case filed by Superintendent Ray D’Anastas, who is currently on leave pending his imminent retirement from the corps.

Just like the D’Anastas case, the ombudsman found that Bartolo had been discriminated against and had suffered an injustice when he was not promoted to assistant commissioner.

The positions were instead given to other people who did not deserve the promotion, especially since a number of them had just completed their probation as superintendents when they were promoted to assistant commissioners.

'Manual ignored almost in entirety' 

He found that Cutajar chose people to be promoted to the new grade on the basis of personal trust rather than according to the manual on which such a process should have been based. The manual was ignored almost in its entirety, the ombudsman said.

Bartolo cried foul over the fact that the selection board had discarded him for promotion despite his decades of service and a perfect track record.

The selection board, chaired by Cutajar with former assistant commissioner Josie Brincat and Joseph Mangani as members, decided to pass 14 applicants and fail another seven, including Bartolo.

He had appealed the decision before the Public Service Commission which upheld the original conclusion. The ombudsman said the commission was not pleased with the way Cutajar had led the selection process but still voted to confirm the decision.

Bartolo said that when he applied for the post, he had been told that only three superintendents were going to be promoted to the new role but eventually 10 were appointed, including a number of them who had less experience than him. Others even had criminal convictions and should have never been considered.

Bartolo said that during the interview before the selection process he had been asked two questions: one by Cutajar who asked him a general question about his career in the police force while Brincat asked what he would do if he had to be promoted before someone else who was more experienced.

The ombudsman said the latter question was asked specifically to trick the candidate.

He noted that it was “very worrying” that one of the people who was promoted to the role had brought the police force into disrepute and faced a series of disciplinary proceedings as well as a criminal case in which he was found guilty.

He was ostensibly referring to former AC Mario Tonna, who was not only allowed to apply for the promotion when he should have been automatically disqualified but was promoted to superintendent and then to assistant commissioner in a span of just one year.

Tonna resigned in January 2018 after it was revealed that his partner had filed a report over domestic abuse. It was alleged that he head-butted her during a late-night argument in December 2017.

He was also accused of insubordination in a case involving his superior who happened to be Bartolo.

Mifsud said Cutajar defended his decisions to promote some and not others because he “trusted” them. When asked if he had pressure from any official from the Office of the Prime Minister, Cutajar denied this was the case, saying that no one interfered in the process.

'Surprising justification' 

The ombudsman said Cutajar told him that Bartolo was “too rigid” and went “by the book”. In fact, complaints he had received about him included the fact that he was “too exigent” and applied regulations strictly. The ombudsman described this justification as “surprising”.

Through his lawyer, Kris Busietta, the former superintendent also complained that his receipt of the Crime Reduction Shield for having successfully led to a reduction in the crime rate in the district he led was not taken into consideration.

In his considerations, the ombudsman said that, while Bartolo did not have the automatic right to qualify for a promotion, the least he could have been given was a fair chance.

The ombudsman said he found it difficult to understand how someone with such a long number of years of service had fared so badly in the process.

As he found that Bartolo had suffered an injustice, the ombudsman recommended that Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà issue a fresh call for the post and ordered him to pay Bartolo €15,000 as moral damages.

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