Many congratulated me last week when I was appointed Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law enforcement. However, many more cautiously wished me good luck knowing full well that the road ahead would be challenging and far from easy.
While I am fully aware of the responsibility I carry, my answer to them was simple: I will work hard to implement the much-needed reforms in some of our country’s most crucial institutions.
My objective is to make sure these institutions have all the tools and resources necessary to do their work properly with full respect for the law and without any political interference.
I believe that in the first reform we proposed, we have already put into practice these two principles. By changing the way the police commissioner is appointed, we are increasing the level of scrutiny in the selection process for this pivotal role in the police force.
When we were working on the proposals to be presented to Cabinet, we were guided by the recommendations made by the Venice Commission. In its report, the Venice Commission was unequivocal on what it considered to be the most important proposal.
It insisted that the police commissioner should be appointed following a public competition. With the legislative amendments we are proposing, a public call will be issued by the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC is a State body established by the Constitution and enjoys the approval of both the prime minister and leader of the Opposition.
The commission will then evaluate the applications and make a short list of two candidates to be referred to Cabinet. When the final selection is made and the best person is selected, the chosen candidate will sit for a grilling in front of the parliamentary committee for public appointments, therefore being placed under the scrutiny of the highest institution of the country.
We will be proposing and implementing reform in the police force
I must point out that the chosen candidate will be facing the scrutiny of not only elected representatives but also of the public as they can also follow the grilling while proposing possible questions to be put forward by their MP.
While this proposal respects the recommendations of the Venice Commission, we have gone even further as the commission did not propose any parliamentary procedure. Furthermore, the Venice Commission also stated that the prime minister had the power to veto the chosen candidate.
The prime minister was clear. He will relinquish that right to ensure that the process remains fair and untarnished throughout.
Once again, our government is implementing the change that past governments were too reluctant to make as they knew that it would reduce their grip on the country’s power. And that is only one reason why the Opposition is not credible when it says that our proposal is not enough.
The other reason is that the Opposition cannot seem to make up its mind on what is the best proposal to appoint a police commissioner. First it proposed that the police commissioner is appointed by a two-thirds majority or a simple majority if the two-thirds cannot be reached in Parliament. That would effectively mean that they wanted a decision to be made solely by politicians.
Then, last month, the Opposition proposed appointing a committee of experts that can recommend a way forward. However, once they realised that a new prime minister would truly effect change, they scuttled to Parliament to propose a bill which states that a police commissioner should only be appointed with a two-thirds majority in the House. It offered no alternatives in the case of a constitutional deadlock.
In politics, credibility is the most important asset. As a government, we have stated that we are committed to implementing the reforms recommended by the Venice Commission and this is exactly what we are doing. We are consistent and credible.
The Opposition is very comfortable quoting the Venice Commission report over and over again but then proposing reforms that go against the very same recommendations.
The Opposition is only interested in playing partisan games.
On the other hand, our main priority is to modernise the country. This is just the first step in a series of reforms that we aim to introduce.
In the coming months, we will be proposing and implementing a reform in the police force.
It will be a reform which will build on the many good things that exist in the force but also implement the necessary changes for the country to have a modern and efficient police force.
Byron Camilleri is Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement.