The government’s insistence on setting a time limit to the conclusion of the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia is nothing short of political interference, PACE rapporteur Pietr Omtzigt said, chastising Prime Minister Robert Abela for “misquoting” the terms of reference to impose a time limit. 

In a letter addressed to Abela and posted to Twitter on Friday, Omtzigt said the Maltese government could not decide after the inquiry had already begun that it should stop operating before its board decided its terms of reference had been fulfilled. 

“The prime minister of a government that is subject to an inquiry should not seek to either determine the scope of the inquiry or to question its propriety. This is blatant political interference with its work,” said Omtzigt, who has been highly critical of the Maltese government. 

“Less than a year after your predecessor belatedly agreed to establish the ‘independent public inquiry’, you and other leading members of the governing party seem to be engaged in a concerted attack on its credibility and integrity. This gives the impression that the government has something to hide and is willing to tolerate, condone and even defend impunity.”

The letter was penned in reaction to the news that, earlier this month, the inquiry board was told by Abela that a one-time deadline extension to December 15 would be granted. 

Omtzigt argues that Abela is “misquoting” the terms of reference to impose the time limit and that their wording, in stating that the inquiry should endeavour to conclude within nine months, indicated a flexible timeframe. 

Additionally, he points out that the government, being the subject of the inquiry, could not unilaterally decide when it should end.

“It cannot be for the Maltese government to decide after the inquiry has begun, that it should cease its work before the board itself determines that the terms of reference are properly fulfilled,” he says.

“Such a power could be used to prevent the inquiry from hearing evidence that the government does not wish it to hear. This is a violation of the inquiry’s independence, beyond any shadow of a doubt,” he argued.

Omtzigt called Labour whip Glenn Bedignfield’s protests that the inquiry had turned into a political exercise “outrageous”, and said that he might yet be of interest in the scope of the inquiry. 

He called on Abela to withdraw the time limit for the conclusion into the inquiry and to “refrain from any future adverse comment on the inquiry and ensure that other Labour Party politicians also refrain from any such comment”.

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