The Home Affairs Ministry has stood by its position to put the new police commissioner on probation for a year, arguing that it is in line with public service guidelines.

The condition has drawn criticism from the opposition and even some within the government, including Labour MEP and former prime minister Alfred Sant.

In a tweet on the day when Angelo Gafà’s formal appointment was announced last week, Sant called for the condition to be scrapped, saying it made no sense. 

Last month, he had described the new mechanism for the police chief’s appointment, involving a public call presided over by the Public Service Commission, as “a charade”. 

Asked to elaborate on his tweet, Sant said the probationary period was “unnecessary” and “incongruous”. 

“It’s not like you’re appointing some middle level marketing executive,” the MEP said.

However, the home affairs ministry has dug its heels in, telling Times of Malta that the proviso and other parameters of the appointment are in line with public service guidelines. It had been asked whether it was considering removing this controversial clause in the wake of the objections raised. 

“A probationary period is applicable across the board within the public and private sector,” a spokesperson said. 

However, the Police Act makes no mention of such a timeframe. 

According to the spokesperson, if the government were to sack the commissioner within the first year it would have to justify its action, whereas Gafà would not be bound to give an explanation should he decide to leave during this period. 

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The ministry added that this was the first time the government had proposed changes to limit its discretion in the decision of who to appoint as police commissioner.

The mechanism proposed provided for a fairer and more transparent process and had been welcomed by the Venice Commission, the spokesperson said.

The PN has described the new mechanism as “a farce”, because the government still had the final say on the appointment – after the candidates were whittled down to two by the Public Service Commission – as well as being able to sack the selected candidate within the first year. 

The opposition boycotted the parliamentary hearing of Gafà saying the police chief would remain “the government’s puppet-on-a-string” as he had no security of tenure. 

Its proposal was to require a two-thirds parliamentary majority to back the appointment or firing of the commissioner, but the government rejected this idea.

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