Updated 12.40pm with government statement
The Nationalist Party has drafted a proposed law that incorporates all the major recommendations made by the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.
The mega-bill incorporates 12 different bills that amend Malta's criminal code or constitution, to bring laws in line with what judges who drafted the Caruana Galizia inquiry report advised needed to change.
Its proposals range from making obstruction of justice a crime to allowing the police to detain suspects in major crimes without charges for 72 hours instead of the 48 currently permitted.
Proposals also include introducing a law for unexplained wealth orders – something the government backed down from, according to Malta Today – and placing the onus on the government to ensure a free press is protected.
Grech presents bill
Addressing a press conference on Saturday, PN leader Bernard Grech said the party wants the issues to be addressed "immediately" and this is why it was putting forward the bill.
"We are hopeful that with this bill, not only would we be following what the judges recommend but also give the people better governance. We are presenting them today as we want to get our country off the [FATF] greylist as soon as possible," Grech said.
Big business and politics
The bill lists multiple proposals to include new laws and responsibilities (see below) but makes no reference to the inquiry's concerns about political ties to big business, or to proposals to reform party financing.
Asked about that omission, Grech said he does not exclude "introducing more rules" in addition to what is being put forward.
"I can guarantee that my party, under my leadership, is not close to any big business. I am always clear on this…I will not let anyone condition our work. But we need to be careful not to get rid of those who are genuinely interested in doing business and investing.
"These people are important partners to ensure our country moves forward," the PN leader said.
Grech went on to call on Prime Minister Robert Abela to "walk the talk", insisting the bill should go through the parliamentary procedures "as soon as possible".
"We need to seriously address this country’s issues. I hope Robert Abela makes no excuses and works with us on this."
The bill, which was unanimously approved by PN MPs on Friday, will now be tabled in parliament by Grech as a private member’s bill.
Caruana Galizia inquiry
Published in July, the Caruana Galizia inquiry report concluded that the state bore responsibility for the journalist's murder, as it had fostered a culture of impunity stretching to the highest echelons of power.
Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October 2017.
The three-person board of inquiry made a series of recommendations about how laws and processes should be changed to prevent a similar crime from reoccurring.
Abela had reacted to the report by apologising on the state's behalf and pledging to incorporate the inquiry's recommendations following consultation. The PN has since noted that, six months down the line, those recommendations have not yet been acted on.
'We are consulting and drafting' - government
In a statement on Saturday, the Office of the Prime Minister said that it had consulted broadly, as advised by the inquiry itself, with local stakeholders and international experts, with the aim of setting up a committee of experts.
"There is no doubt that the Opposition leader is aware of some of these consultations," it said, adding that the government had also discussed legislative changes with consultees.
It would be in a position to unveil some of the next steps in the process "in the coming days," it added.
What does the bill include?
The PN’s bill incorporates 12 smaller bills that must be approved by MPs in order to become law. One of those proposes requires an amendment to the constitution and would therefore require a two-thirds majority to be passed into law. Others amend the criminal code and can become law with a simple majority vote.
The government enjoys a seven-seat majority over the PN, with three other MPs serving as independent members of parliament.
The PN bill proposes:
- Introducing a special magistrate to investigate corruption
- Making obstruction of justice a crime
- Making gross misconduct in public office a crime
- Making it a crime for public officials to use private email addresses for government work
- Making abuse of public office a crime
- Introducing a crime related to conflicts of interest
- Introducing a law for Unexplained Wealth Orders
- Introducing a law to criminalise associations with a mafia-like character
- Extending the period of arrest for major crimes 72 hours instead of 48
- Introducing protection for journalists against SLAPP actions
- Delineating the duties of a caretaker government
- Delineating the duties of the government as a custodian of the common good
- Amending the Constitution to entrench the right to a free press