President George Vella on Friday argued that he was right not to publish Joseph Muscat’s letter of resignation as prime minister, as correspondence with his office was always “confidential”.  

A Freedom Of Information request for the letter was turned down, with the president’s office arguing that the public interest that is served by its non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in its disclosure. 

“I contend that every correspondence with the president’s office is confidential. I do that because I think that the president’s office should enjoy the confidentiality and the trust of anybody who is corresponding with the office”, Vella said in comments to Times of Malta

Muscat published the contents of the letter on his Facebook page this week, seven months after he handed it in to President Vella. 

In the three-paragraph document, Muscat gave no reason for his stepping down other than to say that he was submitting his resignation since a new Labour Party leader had been elected.

The letter is dated January 13 but was only published on Monday.

FOI laws and the president’s office

Vella denied that he was unilaterally putting himself above Freedom of Information laws, which require disclosure of documents in the public interest.

The president’s office is set to gain new powers under a rule of law reforms package, in a bid to shift certain decisions away from the prime minister’s office.

The president argued anyone corresponding with his office was free to publish the contents of their correspondence themselves. 

“Why should it be the president to do that? If the president does that, he will be losing the trust and confidentiality of anybody who would like to write to the president”, Vella said.

“I am not saying I am not subject to freedom of information laws, as a matter of fact, we did have correspondence with the commissioner [for information and data protection], and eventually when it turned out that Joseph Muscat decided to publish the letter, the case fell”, the president continued. 

Muscat announced his resignation in December, soon after his chief of staff Keith Schembri was implicated in journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder by Yorgen Fenech, the man accused financing the bomb plot.

Fenech told police during his interrogation that Muscat had asked him to “control” murder middleman Melvin Theuma, who had begun to drop hints about secret recordings in his possession that shed light on the plot.

Muscat denies ever speaking to Fenech about the murder.

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