I refer to Kevin Aquilina’s Talking Point article, ‘Appointment of police chief’ which appeared January 23. I beg to differ with Aquilina’s contribution for a number of reasons.
The former dean of the Faculty of Laws, irrespective of the novel approach which is being suggested to appoint our police chief, unconvincingly tries to argue that the government should apply a ‘much holier than the Pope’ attitude in tackling this matter.
Aquilina starts by unfairly portraying the Public Service Commission as not being ‘independent’ enough to carry out the selection exercise in view of its bi-partisan composition.
Suffice to say that since the granting of the 1959 Constitution, the Public Service Commission has served as an independent body external to the government, with the power of making binding recommendations and discipline in the public service.
God forbid if all public appointments sanctioned by the commission throughout this time, served only, as Aquilina implies, to satisfy the bi-partisan interests of both government and the opposition by sidelining the public interest.
Moreover, the esteemed professor also takes it for granted that the two successful candidates shortlisted for the post of police commissioner will be subject to a ranking order.
Or that members of parliament will not be privy to the candidate who fared first and the one who placed second, with the consequence that the prime minister may opt for the second-placed candidate instead of the one who came first.
I am more than confident that fairness, integrity, open-mindedness, accessibility, commitment to diversity and an ability to lead will be, inter alia, the main qualities which the selection panel will be evaluating from all candidates before short-listing the names of the best two.
Police commissioners form part of the executive and they have to toe the electoral programme of the government of the day
However, the buck does not stop there. The one who will eventually be selected by the prime minister, will bear the brunt, prior to his approval for the post, of being subjected to a thorough grilling by members of parliament (including members of the opposition). This method of selection for Malta’s police commissioner is surely a first in more than 200 years of the corps’ history.
This method of selection is by far more transparent than the one employed by other European countries in selecting their police chief.
In Ireland, for example, the commissioner of police is answerable to and appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and is appointed by government following a nomination from the policing authority. In Estonia, the national police commissioner is appointed by the government for a five-year term.
In France, the director-general of police is appointed by the Minister of the Interior while in Sweden, the national police chief is appointed by the government of the day for a period of six years.
The same goes for Austria where the provincial police director is appointed by the Federal Minister of the Interior in agreement with the governor of the province.
There is a reason for all this. Police commissioners form part of the executive and they have, like all other departmental heads, to toe the electoral programme of the government of the day. The police corps has been doing this, at least, since the grant, by Britain, of responsible government in 1921.
They cannot, with due respect, be compared to judges whose commitment to impartiality and independence is secured in the Constitution and in the European Convention Act, or the Ombudsman or the Auditor General.
The government, as in all other democratic European countries, must have some kind of leeway in their selection.
And that is why choosing a police chief by means of a two-thirds parliamentary majority (or a judicial appointments committee) is a flaw and those who subscribe to this method are, as Aquilina rightly pointed out in an earlier contribution, ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ (Malta Independent, November 20, 2017).
Andy Ellul is a legal consultant, who has advised the government on policy.
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