The “rule of law” is a basic democratic principle codified in the laws of democratic countries.
We are all servants of the law in order to be free and in a democracy, the law should apply to one and all without exception. A weak “rule of law” thus results in less and less democracy until one is left with only a free-standing façade.
The law is there to be observed: it should be a constraint on the behaviour of individuals as well as on that of institutions. All individuals ought to be subject to the same laws, whereas institutions are there to protect us all, not just from ourselves but also from all possible attempted abuse of authority by the institutions themselves.
It is within this context that the report of the ad hoc delegation of the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament has to be considered. The report is an illustration of how others see the state of our democracy, even though at points it may be inaccurate.
The delegation’s brief was to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion”.
The observations and conclusions of the delegation in its 36-page report are certainly not edifying. The common thread running through the different pages of the report is that in Malta there are more masters of the law than servants; this is how others see us.
In my opinion they are not far off the mark. The report repeatedly emphasises the point that the law should be observed in both letter and spirit.
The institutions in Malta are very weak. I would add that they are weak by design, in other words they are designed specifically to genuflect when confronted by crude political power. This is reflected both in the type of appointees as well as in the actual set-up of the institutions which are supposedly there to protect us.
The above-mentioned report observes, for example, that none of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) reports on Maltese politically exposed persons (PEPs) were investigated by the Police, notwithstanding the fact that the said reports had been forwarded to them “for any action the Police may consider appropriate”.
Is it too much to expect that the police do their duty in at least investigating? The fact that no such investigation was carried out drives home the clear unequivocal message that for the police, PEPs are not subject to the law like any other person. The EU Parliament report is very clear as to why such investigations are essential. In fact it is stated that: “Persons perceived to be implicated in serious acts of corruption and money- laundering, as a result of Panama Papers revelations and FIAU reports, should not be kept in public office and must be swiftly and formally investigated and brought to justice. Keeping them in office affects the credibility of the Government, fuels the perception of impunity and may result in further damage to State interests by enabling the continuation of criminal activity.”
The question to be asked is: why is this possible? Why do Maltese authorities tend to bend the rules or close an eye here and there?
You may find an indication as to why this is so in two small incidents occurring in Malta this year. These illustrate the forma mentis of the Maltese “authorities”.
The first example is associated with the fireworks factory at Iż-Żebbiegħ. After 30 years in Court the rural community of iż-Żebbiegħ won a civil case as a result of which a permit for a fireworks factory was declared null and void by the Court of Appeal. The government reacted by rushing through Parliament amendments to the Explosives Ordinance. These amendments with approved by Parliament with the full support of the Opposition. As a result, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal, a permit for the fireworks factory can still be issued.
The second example is still “work in progress”. The Court of Appeal has, in the application of rent legislation, decided that the Antoine de Paule Band Club in Paola was in breach of its lease agreement. As a result the Court of Appeal ordered the eviction of the band club from the premises they leased within four months.
The government reacted by publishing proposed amendments to the Civil Code, as a result of which the eviction ordered by the Court of Appeal will be blocked.
These are two examples of the government reacting to decisions of our Courts of Law by moving the goalposts – with the direct involvement of the Opposition. The public reactions to these two cases have been minimal. Maltese public opinion has become immune to such “cheating” and bending of the rules because this method of operation has become an integral part of the way in which our institutions function. The Opposition is an active collaborator in this exercise that undermines the rule of law in Malta.
Is it therefore reasonable to be surprised if this “cheating” and bending of the rules is applied not just in minor matters but in very serious ones too? Moving the goalposts whenever it is politically expedient is, unfortunately, part of the way in which this country has operated to date. It is certainly anything but democratic and most obviously anything but respectful towards the rule of law.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 May 2018