This series started out as an investigation into the American University of Malta based on an interview with an ex- staff member who was part of the mass firings. [See When Is a University Not a University] However, it soon opened out on to the wider landscape of corruption saturating Malta. Part 1 of this series is here.
The brutal murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane in a racist drive-by shooting at the beginning of April eventually led to the arrest of two members of the Armed Forces of Malta. The AFM had already come under serious scrutiny after the Ombudsman’s investigation found controversial promotions made in 2013 were ‘vitiated’, lacking in integrity and intended to ‘produce a desired outcome’, one favourable to the government at the expense of professional integrity. Attempts had already been made to block this investigation by the then Home Affairs Minister, Manuel Mallia, the same guy who tried to instigate a lobby against the CoE Report at Malta’s mini-EU summit.
One of the disturbing conclusions of the Ombudsman’s report is that 2 members of the selection board were persons of trust and 4 out of the 5 board members had no military knowledge. This lack of professional credentials is reminiscent of Charlene Muscat, in charge of investigations into the Lands Authority data breach, and connects to objections raised against Tanya Sammut Bonnici as Rector of the University of Malta. Like Charlene Muscat, one of the political appointees on the AFM selection board was an ex-One TV reporter. In the case of the AFM, government interference caused a breakdown in professional standards and may have facilitated murder.
This is as serious as it gets as, too, is the fact the government have made inroads with Libya to re-open their embassy (assuming it was ever closed) in meetings which included Neville Gafà. Like trying to get blood out of that unturned stone, Muscat finally conceded that Gafà is employed as a co-ordinator within the OPM but details of the contract of this public servant remain under wraps.
Discussing sensitive security and intelligence matters, Gafà was part of a delegation that included the AFM’s Head of Operations, a director general from the Foreign Ministry, and Malta’s Ambassador to Libya, Charles Saliba. A statement issued by the latter’s media office said that ‘The deputy prime minister stressed the depth of the historic relations between Libya and Malta, expressing hope for the return of economic and commercial activities between the two countries.’
According to a report published by The Shift News the day after this meeting, the situation in Libya is far from conducive to any ‘second home’ relationship in the near future. It makes one wonder, too, about the ethical implications of Praedium Consulting Ltd and ‘the utmost discretion’ with which they provide their services.
It’s not just ethical but legal judgements that must be held to account when a soldier found guilty of ‘exceeding the limits of provocation’ during a domestic assault has been allowed to retain his job in the army. Not only does this perpetuate an already misogynistic culture but it publicly welcomes those guilty of violence into the AFM at the same time as two of its members stand accused of cold-blooded murder.
This goes well beyond mere contradiction and is indicative of the very dangerous situation we’re in. An outright refusal to accept indisputable facts coupled with a malicious enthusiasm to distort them characterises the government’s wholesale response to any form of criticism, including the Venice Commission, Greco, Moneyval, the UN Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe report and, of course, the Ombudsman’s findings regarding ‘vitiated’ army promotions.
The Academy for Disciplined Forces
While the Ombudsman’s investigation was underway, the Academy for Disciplined Forces was established in 2016, the Chairperson of its Board being Tanya Sammut Bonnici. She had a busy year what with the accreditation of the AUM and competing for the post of Rector at the University of Malta with the ardent support of Joseph Muscat. With this kind of schedule, you can almost see why she might have overlooked Nexia BT’s dubious track record in her other role as Director of Malta Stock Exchange. Her many hats give Edward de Bono’s theory a run for its money and funnily enough, she’s a lecturer at this Institute, too.
Given that so much effort has apparently been made to ensure that the Academy for Disciplined Forces ‘will follow the requisites by the National Commission for Higher and Further Education and the Malta Qualifications Council’ to provide ‘training to the 4,500 members of Disciplined Forces’, one can only hope that more ‘rigour’ and ‘due diligence’ was in place than that guiding the AUM accreditation board to its ‘independent’ decision. Cold hard facts, however, suggest otherwise.
During the 33 day campaign period preceding the snap election in 2017, 885 promotions were awarded and more than half the soldiers received a salary increase, a tactic which can only be described as state capture. In addition, both soldiers charged with the racist murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane were part of a recruitment drive which resulted in 112 soldiers being enlisted just days before the 2017 election and a further 72 the following October. As Manuel Delia puts it, ‘anyone seeking ‘favours’ from the government in exchange of a vote was given a salary, a uniform and a weapon.’
Any regulatory procedures regarding this recruitment process were dangerously lax in that one of the soldiers had a criminal record which involved committing a crime after being conditionally discharged for a previous crime. Military discipline was equally questionable when the 2 soldiers were not immediately suspended from the armed forces on arrest.
As for Muscat’s assurances that ‘The conclusion of this investigation shows that Malta is a safe place for everyone, and it should remain so’, given the investigation he was referring to had barely begun, he was pre-empting its findings just as he did for the Egrant Inquiry, for the ‘independent’ accreditation process for the AUM, and his aim behind the transparently unacceptable line-up for what should be an independent and impartial inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
This begins to feel like a badly oiled malfunctioning machine spinning out of control and, in terms of Sammut Bonnici, you’re left wondering whether, with so many fingers in so many pies, she was given too many strings for her overstretched bow.
A look at the Strategic Plan 2017-2020 for the Academy for Disciplined Forces, covering the period in which the Ombudsman’s investigation was taking place and the publication of its incriminating findings, brings Greco’s observations to the fore: ‘Malta has on paper an impressive arsenal of public institutions involved in checks and balances but their effectiveness is being questioned in recent years due to a wave of controversies’. One of these ‘controversies’ in relation to the AFM is cold-blooded racist murder.
The Strategic Plan for the Academy for Disciplined Forces is also problematised because it was developed through consultation with the AFM and the Malta Police Force, with representatives from both sitting on its board. The AFM’s representative was its Commander, Jeffrey Curmi, who leapfrogged his way through promotions in 2013. The representative for the police was the Police Commissioner and every European body scrutinising Malta knows exactly why Lawrence Cutajar should not have the role he does.
The AFM has been shown to be seriously compromised by overt political manipulation and the Malta Police Force has been heavily criticised by Greco, the Venice Commission, and the Council of Europe. As with the AFM, Greco notes that ‘Between 2013 and 2018 the police was managed by five different Chief Commissioners and it was confronted with a wave of controversial promotions.’
The Venice Commission recommends that ‘the Police Commissioner should be appointed following a public competition and the Police should be bound by instructions from the prosecution.’
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe notes that ‘There is widespread concern about the ability and effectiveness of the Maltese Police to investigate serious crimes, including economic crimes and those involving prominent public figures.’
Just as the FIAU and the MFSA hardly inspire confidence in clean transparent processes for Malta’s Blockchain Island, so, too, consultation with the AFM and the Malta Police undermines the credibility of the new Academy for Disciplined Forces. Indeed, there is that familiar Orwellian tone about the Academy’s description of its values:
‘The Academy embraces the values of fundamental human rights, justice, diligence, integrity, ethics and honesty as the underlying framework of the content of its education and training programmes.’
The Academy emerged in a context in which all of these attributes have been categorically called into question by the Venice Commission, Greco, the Council of Europe report and the subsequent Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution, the European Parliament’s resolutions against Malta, the Ombudsman, and Malta’s failure of the Moneyval review. If this weren’t enough, Malta has also been named as one of 56 countries violating UN sanctions against North Korea, including the use of slave labour. What could be further from the values supposedly embraced by the newly established Academy for the Disciplined Forces?
Nothing happens in isolation and when you’re dealing with a government which has systematically dismantled the rule of law then the notion of discipline has a hollow ring. When a country is saturated in corruption then the logic which sustains this duplicitous status quo needs be fraudulent.
Thus, the Panama Papers are ‘not evidence’. There’s no proof that Egrant belongs to Muscat or his wife when a magisterial inquiry with ‘a desired outcome’ ends without publication of the ‘voluminous’ report on which this ‘innocence’ is based. The BOV’s last US dollar transaction provider has withdrawn its services because of the BOV’s ‘success’. The situation in Malta ‘looks bad, but it’s not.’ Proud boasts made directly from the horse’s mouth, as in those wheeler-dealing passport-selling Henley and Partners sub-agents Chetcuti Cauchi, didn’t really mean that they had direct contact with the government or that ‘there are people ready to close one eye regarding the Citizenship Investment scheme.’
This is the incredulous construction of a house of illusions where lie is layered upon lie. Operating on the basis of doublethink, the foundations are inherently eroded. It’s the Chinese box syndrome which, like money laundering, creates multiple structures that empty their contents when opened or change their name or disappear completely into some offshore realm of mists.
It’s like the American University of Malta which conjured itself into being with a whole host of magicians eager to participate in the confidence trick. It becomes normal for a ‘start-up’ university to engage in mass firings of their newly employed and highly qualified staff and then hire both a plagiarist and a fraud.
There’s a hyper-surreal quality to recent Twitter posts made by the AUM – an encounter between Orwell and the twilight zone. John Ryder is photographed alongside a Humanities Professor bearing the unlikely name of Bing. They’re setting off for a conference in Romania which focuses on a topic as far removed from the AUM as you could hope to find: democracy.
AUM Provost Dr. John Ryder and AUM Humanities Professor Dr. John Bing recently returned from a trip to Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where they both spoke at a conference on democracy.
Here they are on the eve of their departure: pic.twitter.com/L1imd4Ud5v
— AUM Malta (@AUMalta) 19 June 2019
A further post is saturated in even starker irony. At this same conference on democracy, Professor Bing ‘argued that a commons, or shared land that belongs to the people, is an essential component of a true democracy.’
What do you call a democracy that is devoid of commons?
At the Rațiu Dialogues on Democracy last month, Dr. Bing, AUM Humanities Professor, argued that a commons, or shared land that belongs to the people, is an essential component of a true democracy. pic.twitter.com/yuKLOOUOjl
— AUM Malta (@AUMalta) 24 June 2019
Perhaps he’s referring to Żonqor or the historic Dock 1 at Cospicua or the recently contested car park spurring that bastion of the people, Glenn Bedingfield, to scream out ‘Give us back our land!’