Monday, 23 October 2017

Beware confusing issues

 Image result for from Oscar Wilde

A week ago Daphne Caruana Galizia (DCG) was brutally murdered by expert hands normally associated with contract killings.  Someone had motivation to shut her up.   In a country where we pride ourselves of  peace and tranquillity this is was as shocking as it was unexpected.

No need to elaborate why it is shocking.   Unexpected because whilst such crimes within criminal gangs settling scores among themselves are not uncommon, using same tactics to shut up a journalist, a blogger or a private individual exercising their right to speak freely, is something we thought would never happen here. Even the victim herself was not expecting such retribution having been refusing police protection and evidently taking little precautions about her own safety.

During this week unfortunately we have seen a mixture of true remorse about the hideous murder mixed with opportunism to exploit this tragic event to perpetrate political objectives.

This is condemnable.  There are two issues which must not be confused.

The first is the right to express opinions freely without fear.   “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”   is commonly attributed to Voltaire or people in his circles.    George Orwell is quoted saying; “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

This does not mean that the right of free expression comes with complete impunityIf it did it would be usurping other people's right to safeguard their honour and reputation.      But retribution for abuse of free speech has to be settled in courts of law.   Furthermore penalties for abuse of free speech should be commensurate with the need to protect its right.   The removal of criminal libel is thus a good measure introduced by the current government that has been at the receiving end of DCG's criticism for decades. My judgement is as always based on deeds not words.   So the words from accusers that government wants to curtail free speech must be confronted with the tangible measure to remove criminal libel to make it less restrictive on free expression of opinion.

I therefore endorse and applaud all efforts by journalists, civil society and other interest group to band together and pledge that they will not be frightened and that they will pursue the right to free speech with the same vigour as followed by DCG.

The other issue which is equally important is that efforts to make DCG 'santa subito' are to say the least misguided.   Her tragedy does not absolve her excesses in character assassination and her lack of objectivity in her reporting which was consistently directed at causing harm to Labour's cause.

DCG was very selective in pursuing and blowing-up stories that could hurt Labour.  Whilst leads that could somehow expose faults on persons associated with Labour were followed up vigorously, often without proper investigation and presented as factual rather than mere suspicions, other leads involving PN personalities were rarely followed and certainly not with equivalent dynamism.

DCG was unquestionably the standard bearer for that faction in the PN which upholds that labourites are children of a lesser god, that the PN has a God given right to govern this country, and that pro-Labour democratic choices made by the electorate no matter how clear, consistent and impressive, result from both ignorance and greed of the electorate in choosing those who are feeding them the fruits of corruption.

Confusing the right of free speech with a certificate for DCG journalistic objectivity is a grave error that is being purposely committed by those who want to abuse of the tragic event of last week to further their political agenda.

What sense does it make to call for the resignation of the police commissioner because of this murder?   What proof for assertions that law enforcement institutions have been allowed to break down purposely by government?   Why are such unproven assertions repeated to international press with a clear purpose to damage the country's reputation?

The search for the truth should be the only thing that matters at this time to find out who was behind this murder.  Calls for resignation are a direct challenge to the electoral mandate given just four months ago and a dangerous distraction from the need to devote all energies to solve this murder case.  It is quite suspicious that some quarters are more interested in resignations rather than in bringing the cruel perpetrators to justice.

Arguments that the institutions have broken down are a grave insult to people who are doing their utmost in a professional job which returns very little appreciation whilst exposing them to severe personal risks.  Why have institutions broken down?   Because the police take their time to investigate suspicions to the point of having solid proof that can stand up in a court of law?   Because the Attorney General is not free in his position to defend himself and some expect him and his office to interfere in police investigations?   Who says that the police are not investigating all accusations irrespective of the colours of the abuse.

My experience speaks the opposite.  In the subject case for which I have pending civil libel proceedings against DCG she made very damaging assertions in my regard, presenting them as factual, just three weeks before my appointment as Governor of the Central Bank of Malta.  Such accusations take time to defend and disprove.   I had no option but to abandon my career dream and asked the Prime Minister to consider me no further.   After one year I also voluntarily resigned from my position as Deputy Governor even though my mandate still had three years to run.

It resulted that the same accusations that DCG swallowed without proper search for proof or without due care about evil motivations of informers, were made to the Police directly by the informer in 2006.  In 2006 it was a PN administration and certainly there was no political protection in my regard.  Yet the police never informed me about these accusations and the only logical conclusion is that the Police were not satisfied, in the absence of proof, with the honesty and veracity of the accuser and the accusations. In 2016 the same accusations were channelled through DCG, who sensing an opportunity to embarrass me and the government, splashed it on to her blog without seeking further proof as she herself admitted during evidence in court.

In 2016,  the Police, triggered by DCG's blog, under a Labour administration offered me no favours and investigate they did and how.   I spent an awful summer in 2016 going to CID to be questioned and provide evidence to defend myself.    In spite of finding no evidence of the alleged wrong doing the police would not even issue a statement to clear my name.  So much for favours to Labourites!!

This is not to say that the Institutions need no improvements.  They certainly need to learn how to defend themselves and explain their role and the limits of their mandate.  They need to hone their communication skills and resources to ensure that the media works for them not against the police during delicate investigations.   They certainly need to enrich their investigative resources and capabilities given that economic openness and opulence acquired by the country has imported new risks different from the native risks with which they were familiar.

I am the last person who would seriously suspect that the murder motive was political.  It has all characteristics of a contract killing from the criminal world.   But  suggestions that the motivation could have been political should absolve Labour.   Labour was at the receiving end of DCG's criticism for a quarter century.   It got immune to it.  Some even thought that the criticism was so extreme and wild that it was counter-productive and working in Labour's favour. The election results of 2013 and 2017 seem to suggest so.   Then following the June 2017 election DCG turned her guns against the new PN leader and did all she could to blow up his campaign.  Having failed she never let up in her criticism of the new PN Leader and made it her mission to ensure that he fails.

For a time these last four months Labour was enjoying DCG tearing apart the new PN leader, not as a favour to Labour, but because she had an inner belief that what she considered as heavy baggage he was carrying would make it impossible for the PN under his leadership to win future elections against Labour. I must say this was a new experience.  It was almost enjoyable.  

How cruel that new experience when DCG main focus was not Labour had to be cut so short.  How cruel that DCG was not allowed to practice what she believed in - the right to express her opinion freely.  I repeat Oscar Wilde: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”  

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Collective Wisdom 2

Image result for collective wisdom quotesYet again the Maltese electorate has delivered a judgement in the tradition of its collective wisdom.

I had written about this already in an article published in 2014 which can be accessed through this link:

It is terribly na├»ve for quarters close to the PN to blame the electorate for its loss.   Arguments that the majority of Maltese must be stupid to hand  Joseph Muscat a re-instatement mandate with an even bigger majority, expose arrogance and disdain just at a time when humility and self-assessment are called for.

The electorate saw no reason to depart from its long held tradition to mandate same government for two consecutive  terms and all the claims of corruption and bad governance marshalled by the members of the network of power of which the PN is simply the political cell, could not move the electorate one teeny weeny bit from its determination to judge Muscat on overall performance rather than on unproven suspicions of mal-practice which are still being investigated.

This reminds me of 1992 when PN gave Labour a bigger drumming at the polls than the first win of  1987.  It was only after the second electoral defeat that Labour realised that unless it re-invents itself it will remain unelectable.   Alfred Sant as new leader working on a blueprint I had penned in 1990 won the following 1996 election against all expectations.

The PN must now realise that to be considered as a true alternate government they must act like an alternate government and not simply obstruct  all the way using questionable means which harm the country's  international reputation.

We should all celebrate the electorate's further demonstration of its collective wisdom.   It rewards Labour and PM Muscat with a well-deserved second mandate.   It hopefully forces the PN to re-define its strategies, consider the best persons who can lead the necessary transformation to regain electoral credibility, and above all stop playing dirty games by internationalising our defects beyond all proportions.

Most of all PN must allow our regulatory institutions and law enforcement organs  to work with the autonomy bestowed upon them by law and uphold the rule of law by desist orchestrating internal leaks which create huge obstructions in the proper functioning of such institutions.

It is never too late for a new beginning.   Malta needs not only a strong government but an effective opposition which can keep the executive on its toes without damaging our international reputation.  Even for the PN the election result of 2017 could be a covert victory just as the electoral losses of 1992 and 2008 where covert victories for Labour.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Upholding the rule of law

Image result for rule of lawNow that I made it public that I will be relinquishing my post of Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Malta as of 30th June 2017, I feel a bit freer to start commenting on current affairs.

I look forward to the period post June 2017 when I will be able to explain in more detail  what led me to give up my 5 year appointment after just 2 years.   But these are pleasures yet to come as the truth is that persons holding positions with security of tenure, like the judiciary, the Attorney General and Governors of the Central Bank, are disadvantaged when they are criticised on a personal basis, especially when such criticism is part of the political crossfire. Respect to the Organisation they represent,  holds them back from properly defending themselves in order not to carry the Organisation itself in the political crossfire.

Democracies are built on the rule of law.   These are rules that apply to one and all, government, opposition, civil society and ordinary citizens. Upholding the rule of law is particularly important during an election campaign when the executive is in a holdover caretaker role and the prospect of alternation of power through the voting process becomes a real possibility.

The rule of law depends on those charged with upholding being allowed to operate autonomously and respectfully.   Amongst the organisations that upholds the rule of law are the judiciary, the FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) and the Police authorities.

It is very regretful to note that during this election campaign and the weeks leading to it,  all these organisations where not allowed to operate with the tranquillity they need and deserve in order to execute their duties to uphold the rule of law.  

The Police were consistently criticised by the Opposition for purportedly not fulfilling their duties of properly investigating the cases flagged to them by the FIAU involving key government executives.   Police investigations require time.  Whilst the FIAU trades in suspicions the Police can only charge people based on hard evidence that can stand up in a court of law.   This needs time.   There are cases involving prominent Opposition executives who are also being investigated by Police following suspicions raised by the FIAU.   Even in these cases, which would play well in favour of the government, the Police have not yet pressed charges even though the evidence is relatively straight forward according to an investigative report filed by three appointed judges.

Can the police perform properly if they are continuously criticised rather than allowed space to execute properly?   As the law stands, a new government has right to fire and replace the Police Commissioner.   This is not a desirable practice and hopefully it will be changed,  but that's how presently it is.  But what sense does it make to continually threaten the Police Commissioner with dismissal and still expect him to perform professionally?   This practice is also unfair to an incoming Commissioner as the implication would be that such Commissioner is expected to be loyal to the executive not to their responsibilities.

The FIAU can only function properly if its reports are treated with utmost secrecy as provided in its law.   Anyone breaking such secrecy rules is subject to criminal penalties including fines and imprisonment. Unless this rule of law is respected the FIAU cannot function.   The FIAU depends on suspicious transaction reports it receives from the licensed institutions and other obliged entities. These reports are submitted on the strict understanding that such reports stay secret.   But if through internal sabotage the FIAU leaks information like a bullet holed water tank, how can the operatives have confidence to continue submitting suspicious transaction reports? Anyone who aides and abets in breaking the secrecy needed by FIAU operations, is actively defying an important aspect of the rule of law.

The judiciary must be allowed to operate without pressure.   It was wrong for the Prime Minister to hold the Magistrate responsible for consequences that may result from not concluding his enquiries before the elections.   If anything such responsibilities are to be carried by the Leader of the Opposition who made the allegations and by the Prime Minister who called early elections.  I believe it was a slip of the tongue as it goes against many other statements made by the Prime Minister respecting the independence of the judiciary .  But it is equally condemnable  when the Magistrate is held responsible if he does not find evidence that the Prime Minister is guilty.

The paladins who pretend to be on the forefront of upholding the rule of law do so by actively breaking it.   The Chamber of Advocates only find their voice to criticise the Prime Minister.   Ex Chief Justice Said Pullicino finds courage to condemn the 'tibna' in Labour's camp and ignores the 'travu' of the PN.

The rule of law is being undermined by those who preach the need to uphold it.