How to fix the democratic deficit in Malta

I’ve written about the lack of proper justice in Malta before. People questioned my point saying, “How else is the system supposed to work?” Their question suggests there isn’t a better way of doing things. I beg to differ.

I

My previous article is What’s the point of the Justice system? I explained how we don’t have a proper justice system in Malta because the government and police are not separate. In summary:

  • The Prime Minister controls the Police so you can’t tell if your investigation is fair or not.
  • The Prime Minister controls the judiciary – magistrates and judges – so you can’t tell if you’re getting a fair hearing.

We don’t have a proper democracy in Malta

In this article I explain how we can have an independent police force. By this I mean a Force which is not under political control but still subject to political scrutiny. I don’t think this solution is perfect. I know many will point this out in the comments or on social media. Take this as an example of how we can start to have a better system. As systems evolve, they can improve and we can end up with the police force we deserve.

Who doesn’t want a better system?

Before I go any further I want to be clear about one thing. The Police do a thankless task to the best of their abilities. I know they go over and beyond the call of duty in many cases. The rank and file are to be commended and have great potential.

I don’t have faith in their leadership because of the flawed system to appoint that leadership. This is defined in the Laws of Malta in the Police Act of 2017.

II

The Police Act is a 48-page piece of legislation which details many things. I’m interested in governmental interference for the purposes of this article. The main points I disagree with are:

The Malta Police Force Logo (Source: pulizija.gov.mt)
  1. There is a Police Governance Board which sets the strategic direction of the Police force. There are 5 people on this board. They’re appointed by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Minister responsible for the Police. They won’t appoint you if, for example, you’re convicted of money laundering. Unless the Minister decides to waive this restriction, in which case you can.
  2. The Prime Minister appoints the Commissioner. This person may have Deputy Commissioners or Assistant Commissioners to help. The Minister responsible for Police appoints these.

It is obvious the Commissioner is in a political role enjoying the Prime Minister’s trust. I can’t imagine a situation where the Commissioner would investigate the Prime Minister.

Ever.

If the Commissioner tries to do the right thing, the Minister can place deputies and assistants into the Commissioner’s office. These could be political stooges to thwart the Commissioner’s work.

If all Assistant and Deputy Commissioners are honest, the governance of the Force is in the hands of 5 people selected by the Prime Minister. Anyone with a conflict of interest can still be on the board because the Minister can waive such a restriction.

This is scary.

This solves the problem of political interference in the Police

The rest of this article is my suggestion to make Malta’s Police force independent of the executive branch of government. Feel free to make fun of my ideas in the comments below.

III

Instead of a Police Governance Board I would leverage a parliamentary committee. I can’t find a good match in the list of current committees so we need a new one with a limited mandate. A committee makes sense because:

  1. It’s made up of elected representatives of the People, not people the Prime Minister selects.
  2. We already have rules to prevent criminals from running for office. No one has the authority to waive make exceptions.

Some of you think this doesn’t make sense.

The Police Act specifies that Members of Parliament cannot be part of the Police Governance Board and my solution violates this. I argue that if the committee has well-defined powers this will not be an issue. What I mean is the committee should:

  • Criticise the Force’s work and recommend broad changes. I don’t mean they can criticise cases. They should discuss things like whether the Force should dedicate more resources to, say, armed robbery.
  • Set performance metrics for the Force. This will allow the country to see if society is getting better or worse.
The Malta Police Force Patch (Source: pulizija.gov.mt)

With these two simple responsibilities representatives of the People can look at the Commissioner’s performance. Since the Commissioner leads the Force, its performance is examined too.

This committee can be setup so there is a fair representation of the parties in parliament. It can also be setup so one political party can’t hijack the proceedings.

The next question is obvious: how would they appoint a Commissioner?

IV

Someone has to choose the person. A committee focused on this line of work is well placed to do so. I would have a selection procedure that focuses on the key aspects of the role – subject knowledge, media relations, charisma, managerial skills. I’ve proposed a selection procedure for political party leaders before and they can use a variation of this process here.

The Committee can interview people who pass these tests. Their recommendations should go to the President of the Republic. As someone who is above Parliament, the President can appoint a Commissioner based on factual analysis. I would add a simple control to the proceedings at this stage. If a Commissioner proves to be unreliable the Committee and the President should be liable for their mistake. If they performed all due diligence and acted in good faith that’s fine.

As a result, this simple check will keep everyone on their toes.

Whoever appoints a Police Commissioner should take responsibility for that decision

So far I described an improved governance board and a better way to select a Commissioner. Most of you have noticed I haven’t described the Commissioner’s authority or responsibilities.

V

The Police Act already defines the Force’s responsibilities. I don’t see any need to change this. For clarity’s sake, let me reproduce the relevant points here from Article 4:

The main objectives of the Force are:

  1. to preserve public order and peace, to prevent the commission of offences, to promote and enforce the observance of the laws, as a first guarantee of the rights of all persons in Malta, even before action is needed through the judicial system to repress, sanction or remedy any breach.
  2. to respond immediately to any request for the protection and intervention of the law.
  3. to apply the law without discrimination on any ground […]
  4. to promote the orderly and peaceful coexistence of all persons in Malta […]
  5. to seek to protect the environment;
  6. to assist, within reasonable limits, any person seeking the help of a police […] officer even though the ultimate responsibility to provide such help may not lie with the Force.
  7. to perform honestly and effectively all those duties assigned to it by this Act or by any other law.

This works for me. (We can debate whether the Commissioner does these things or not but that’s a separate discussion.)

Malta Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar

How should we measure the Force’s performance in general, and the Commissioner’s performance in particular?

VI

I would setup a simple set of targets. The Committee can decide that, for example, pickpocketing is a growing concern in the country. It can recommend this as a priority. The Committee can specify metrics, for example:

  • Number of solved pickpocketing crimes should be more than 85%.
  • Average duration of resolution should be less than 7 calendar days.
  • Number of reported crimes caused by pickpockets should decrease by 45% year-on-year.

The Commissioner is then free to organise himself and the Force in such a way to meet these metrics. For example, increasing the number of foot patrols in tourist areas will meet the third objective and helps with the other two.

Every year the Commissioner should present the Force’s performance to the Committee. This presentation should justify any deviation from expected targets. It’s possible the Committee was over enthusiastic so this exercise should be a feedback loop not a set of hard targets. That could be unfair and can lead to cutting corners.

We, the People, need feedback loops to monitor the Police’s performance

Would this be enough?

VII

As I said earlier, this solution is not a perfect one. I’m sure there are many who disagree with me. I will engage with you in the comments below or on social media.

This is an improvement on the current system. Right now we have a Commissioner appointed by the executive branch, and governed by a Board which is also appointed by the executive branch. As I’ve explained before5, the Commissioner’s lacklustre performance makes many question whether the Police is effective or not.

If not, we don’t have a proper democracy. If it is independent then we don’t have a proper Police force.

My solution will remove this ambiguity.

If we don’t make things better, they can only get worse.

How would you change things?

References

  1. What’s the point of the Justice system?’; Antoine Borg; Brain, not ego; 2018-05-01
  2. The Police Act; Ministry of Justice; (Retrieved 2018-10-02) 
  3. Standing committees; Malta Parliament; (Retrieved 2018-10-01) 
  4. How to choose an election-winning leader; Antoine Borg; Brain, not ego; 2018-08-29
  5. Discover what Malta’s Police Commissioner should have done; Antoine Borg; Brain, not ego; 2018-03-13

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.


HAVE AN INTEREST, IDEA, OR AN OPINION?

Do you have an interest you’d like to tell others about? Or an opinion you’d like to share with the world? From politics to culture and sports, message us if you would like your articles published!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s