Opposition Home Affairs spokesman Michael Falzon yesterday would not rule out moving a no-confidence motion against his ministerial counterpart Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, saying inaction over problems in prison were “disastrous”.

He can no longer say that prison failings occurred under his predecessor’s watch

Describing the prison’s official name – Corradino Correctional Facility – as “almost a joke”, Dr Falzon said that Dr Mifsud Bonnici had to shoulder political responsibility for failings at CCF.

Despite his scathing criticism on the running of the prison, however, Dr Falzon refused to pin the blame for failings on CCF director Abraham Zammit, saying that “the entire system is a mess. Problems stem from the very top”.

“The Minister has had several eye-openers now and he can no longer say that prison failings occurred under his predecessor’s watch. It is time to stop this now,” he said.

When pressed, Dr Falzon refused to rule out moving a parliamentary motion on the issue.

An eventual no-confidence vote in Dr Mifsud Bonnici would potentially plunge the government into a fresh crisis, with rebel backbencher Franco Debono having vociferously criticised the Home Affairs (and former Justice) minister on several occasions.

Dr Falzon yesterday said that inmates, NGOs and even the judiciary had pointed to large-scale drug problems within CCF, despite the government being “in denial” about the issue.

“Nothing’s happened despite repeated warnings. I’ve been speaking about the crisis for years, but there’s been no change,” Dr Falzon said.

The most recent drug-related incident in connection with CCF came to light last Monday, when a CCF inmate was found guilty of trafficking heroin in prison last year.

However, a ministry spokesman said that, contrary to Dr Falzon’s claims of “drug trafficking in prison”, in this case the heroin was intercepted by CCF officials while being smuggled into prison.

“Although every prison in the world faces a constant struggle against drugs, prison officials deserve praise for having stopped drugs from entering prison, despite the Opposition continuously disparaging them,” a Ministry statement said.

Dr Falzon also accused the government of being purposely deceptive in its drug testing of CCF inmates. Last December, the Home Affairs Ministry had said that less than two per cent of inmates subjected to drugs tests between early 2010 and mid-2011 had tested positive.

This low figure contrasted significantly with reports at the time which described the CCF as a “failed” system, in light of the notorious Josette Bickle case. Ms Bickle, who a fellow inmate had called the “queen” of prison, had been found unanimously guilty of drug trafficking in a trial by jury. She is currently appealing the judgement.

Dr Falzon yesterday returned to the 1.7 per cent positive rate of drugs tests in CCF, saying that he had it on good authority that tests were only carried out on prisoners who had applied for prison leave.

The government had at the time said that drugs tests were carried out whenever inmates were suspected of drug use – a methodology dismissed by former prisons board chairman Mario Felice, who had insisted that mandatory drugs tests were needed.

“It would appear that the government’s solution to being told there is a drug problem in prison is to stop testing inmates,” Dr Falzon quipped.

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