The Ombudsman said today he will continue to investigate complaints by Officers of the Armed Forces of Malta, even though Home Affairs Minister Mauel Mallia said in Parliament on May 7 that the Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction to investigate .
The minister had said that if anything, in terms of the Armed Forces of Malta Act complaints should be brought to the attention of the President of Malta by the Commander, through the Minister.
In a statement, the Ombudsman, former Chief Justice Joseph Said Pullicino, said the minister based his view on a letter signed by an Investigating Officer within Office of the Ombudsman dated 16 October 2003, by which he declined to investigate a complaint lodged by an Officer in the Armed Forces in respect of a promotion.
"The Ombudsman has already informed the Armed Forces of Malta that in his considered opinion, that decision was manifestly mistaken since in effect it denies the right which the Officers enjoy under the Ombudsman Act to have recourse to him. Apart from other considerations that decision, ignored the basic and elementary legal principle that a specific law prevails over one of a general nature that preceded it.
"The Article in the Armed Forces Act (1970) cited by the Minister regulates the procedure through which Officers may seek redress for any grievances which they may have.
"The Ombudsman Act, on the other hand provides for specific redress for complaints on appointments, promotions, salary and pension rights," the Ombudsman said.
He explained that under the previous administration, this matter had been the subject of discussion over several months between President George Abela, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the Attorney General, and Brigadier Martin Xuereb, then Commander of the Armed Forces.
An agreement was reached that ensured that AFM Officers had the right to seek effective redress from the Ombudsman if they opted to refer their case to him, the Ombudsman said.
According to this agreement, an AFM Officer could opt to avail himself of his right to submit his complaint in terms of Article 160 of the Armed Forces Act, to the President of Malta, through the Commander of the Armed Forces and the minister. In that case he would be considered to have renounced his right to seek redress from the Ombudsman.
On the other hand the officer could choose to submit his complaint in the first place to the Ombudsman while retaining his right to have his complaint referred to the President in case he was not satisfied with the Ombudsman’s decision. The choice was his.
"This agreement respected the rights of Officers under the two laws which applied in their case, besides also respecting the Constitutional hierarchy," the Ombudsman said.
He said the Ombudsman's Office had investigated and gave his ruling on a number of complaints raised by a number high ranking AFM Officers. His Final Opinion was considered by AFM and acted upon by the previous administration.
"The Ombudsman maintains that he has jurisdiction to investigate complaints from AFM Officers in respect of appointments, promotions, pay and pension rights. It is the Law that gives the AFM Officers such a right and this right cannot be denied to them. So long as the law and the General Order remain in force, the Ombudsman is in duty bound to continue to extend his protection to those army Officers who complain to him in respect to appointments, promotions, pay and pension rights," the Ombudsman insisted.
He said he was keeping President Coleiro Preca updated on the situation.
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