Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed on a Monday. The following Sunday there was a big march in Valletta. I was invited to speak at that event, but I had nothing to do with its organisation. I wasn’t an activist of any sort at the time. I was caught by the events of that week like a deer in the headlights, shocked and only very vaguely aware of the details of what was going on.
At the protest I was told to hold up a banner. I’m sure I don’t remember what it said. I held a single flower in my hand.
I saw behind the front of the crowd people holding up two unflattering canvas portraits, one of Lawrence Cutajar and the other of Peter Grech. Speakers who were part of the organisation identified the two for calls for resignations. The chief of police and the attorney general needed to shoulder responsibility and resign, protesters said.
My speech on the day was nowhere near as sophisticated and targeted. I did not have a clear idea in my mind who to blame for the killing of my favourite writer. I knew someone had to blame. I referred vaguely to “politicians” and to “criminals” and to “criminal politicians”.
In my arrogance, and with my poor grasp of the facts, I wondered if targeting the chief of police and the attorney general amounted to panicked scapegoating, a bit like the heads mounted on spikes after the storming of the Bastille belonging to people who were not responsible for, but were made representatives of, the grievances of the rebels.
It took me time to catch up with the thinking. The failure of the chief of police and the prosecutor to act on reasonable suspicion of crime left the journalist who exposed them completely vulnerable to the retribution of the people she exposed. Their failure to act is not merely a blot on their performance review report. It is a responsibility for the failure of the State to live up to its promise to the people who live in it: to keep them safe from criminals and wrongdoers, especially criminals and wrongdoers in public office.
I’m less naive now when I see Chris Soler and Victoria Buttigieg, split heirs to the legacy of Peter Grech, and Angelo Gafà, Lawrence Cutajar’s heir, replying in court as they did to the parliamentary opposition’s call on them to act on the “collusion” and “fraud” documented by the courts in the hospitals’ privatisation case.
All said they could not act.
Chris Soler said that as State Advocate he followed the instructions of the government. I looked up his job description in the constitution again. It says:
The State Advocate shall be the advisor to Government in matters of law and legal opinion. He shall act in the public interest and shall safeguard the legality of State action. The State Advocate shall also perform such other duties and functions as may be conferred upon him by this Constitution or by any law. In the exercise of his functions, the State Advocate shall act in his individual judgment, and he shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.
That’s not the same as saying that the State Advocate acts under the instruction of the government. Not at all. He advises the government, but he must do so in the public interest and while ensuring that the State acts lawfully. His decisions must be based on his own judgement and not on “any other person”’s, including the government’s, instructions.
It must be like that. The government is not the only part of the State. What happens when some part of the State which is not the government disagrees with the government on a legal matter. Will the State Advocate take the government’s side right or wrong?
What happens if the Maltese State is sued by a Maltese individual at an international court, like the European Court of Human Rights? Will the State Advocate defend rulings taken against the Maltese government by the Maltese courts? As a matter of fact, he doesn’t because Chris Soler’s job title is a misnomer. He’s dressed as State Advocate but he’s Robert Abela’s lawyer instead.
Victoria Buttigieg? She went to court with a reply filed jointly with the police chief as if they were one and the same thing. They aren’t. She too is expected to act on her individual judgement and not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. What’s more important perhaps in this context is that the law gives her a distinct function from the police chief’s including the function of reviewing the police chief’s decisions, advising him, and directing him, and if necessary, over-ruling him. But they speak as one.
She can’t sue in the civil court she said, which was a bit obvious because that challenge about civil lawsuits was addressed to her equally useless colleague, the State Advocate, not to her. She can however launch prosecutions. For most crimes we’re talking about only she can launch prosecutions.
Admittedly she relies on the police to provide her with the evidence. But if on the one hand she reads court judgements that record “collusion” and “fraud” and on the other the police are doing nothing about it, how is it that Victoria Buttigieg chooses to file a response to a challenge to her to do something, together with the police chief who is obviously not doing anything about it? Isn’t that the same as saying she doesn’t want anything done about it?
And then there’s Angelo Gafà who says his job is not to file civil proceedings. Again, duh. No one was asking him to. That challenge was addressed to the State Advocate. Angelo Gafà was being challenged to do his job: investigate a crime, “collusion” and “fraud” as the court already identified them. Gafà says he had been assisting the magistrate in her inquiry which is like congratulating himself for wearing pants outdoors. The inquiry has been going on 4 years and he’s been helping the magistrate for that long. The inquiry is looking into criminal matters. Never mind civil lawsuits. How about doing some police work and investigating the crime?
Bernard Grech and Adrian Delia said these responses prove Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela control our institutions. They probably sound more surprised than they actually were. If they did really have a hope that when called upon to do so, Soler, Buttigieg and Gafà would move, I don’t blame Grech and Delia for continuing to hope that one day people in constitutional positions, enjoying security of tenure, and the honour of serving the State in such prominent roles, decide to live up to their duty, break the omertà that protects the mafia and do their jobs. I find myself hoping that happens again and again, naively, and stupidly perhaps, because experience has shown all evidence to the contrary.
I remember when the scales fell from my eyes, and understood what Daphne Caruana Galizia had realised much before me on how the failure of our institutions was trapping us in a tyranny of Joseph Muscat’s making. The realisation of many like me came too late for her. Too many still haven’t realised what’s truly going on and perhaps it is now already too late for this country.