Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt came out swinging against former justice minister Owen Bonnici during a meeting with prime minister Robert Abela on Friday.
Mr Omtzigt said that many of the ministers sitting around the table with Dr Abela were part of former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s government.
“I am looking at you, Owen Bonnici”, quipped Mr Omtzigt while lamenting the lack of progress in implementing changes recommended by the Venice Commission.
The now education minister turned visibly red after Mr Omtzigt’s remark.
The Dutch MP noted how Dr Abela failed to mention journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination during his opening remarks in Friday's meeting. He demanded that the prime minister retract comments he had made about the slain journalist’s family in the past.
Mr Omtzigt said a litany of damning reports international bodies had attracted attention about Malta abroad.
He said the island operated in a number of “high-risk” economic sectors, like cryptocurrencies, online gaming and passport sales.
PM vows further reform
On his part, Prime Minister Abela said the government took the Venice Commission’s report and Mr Omtzigt’s own work very seriously.
Mr Omtzigt’s work had attracted harsh criticism from Dr Abela’s predecessor, Joseph Muscat.
Dr Abela gave a rundown of a new system that will take away the absolute discretion enjoyed by the prime minister when appointing the police commissioner.
He said a strong rule of law was paramount to a strong democracy.
While acknowledging “episodes” that had dragged down Malta’s reputation, Dr Abela vowed the government would not drag its feet in implementing further reforms.
Dr Abela said the government had already split the attorney general’s functions and was now looking into splitting the police’s investigative and prosecutorial roles.
He said Malta needed to restore its reputation and promised that rule of law reforms would be carried out in good faith.
Caruana Galizia inquiry 'making real progress'
In a statement issued later in the day, Mr Omtzigt described the talks as "frank, open and constructive" and said there was a "positive new attitude" towards rule of law reform.
A public inquiry into the Caruana Galizia murder was "making real progress," he added.
The inquiry, which the Caruana Galizia family had been demanding, was set up last year after the Council of Europe gave the Maltese government a three-month deadline.
Mr Omtzigt also noted progress in the Caruana Galizia murder investigation, though he noted there was "widespread conviction that the full scope of the case has not yet been revealed" and that high-level corruption inquiries had not yet led to any concrete results.
"Malta’s reputation will not be restored until all of these cases are fully resolved," he said.