Daphne murder: opportunity lost

Early on a Monday morning, the Prime Minister stood on a podium in Castille, Valletta to tell us of a police operation underway. They were rounding up suspects that may be involved in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The suspects weren’t arraigned yet, but Joseph Muscat, possibly speaking in English for the international press to pick up sound bites, was up there to announce it all.

He said he could not wait for the arraignments as, given the scale of the operation, it made no sense trying to keep mum. It would have led to rumours, he said. On that point, he was right.

Sadly, the man who should have been up there in his stead, the Police Commissioner, was nowhere to be seen. He had a minor event later that day. The media was there with piles of questions to ask, but he scurried off before they came close. It came across like he was not the man in charge, giving more credence to the calls for his removal.

The Prime Minister should never have addressed that press conference on a police investigation. He tried to sound cautious, saying he did not want to prejudice the case as had happened in 2002 when then prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami held a press conference on corruption allegations concerning the judiciary. At the time, Dr Fenech Adami had said the case concerning the judiciary was so important it deserved an official reaction.

Dr Muscat could make the same argument, given the high profile of the murder. But to take the whole police corps under his wing, effectively speaking on their behalf, was a very wrong message to send. The police are not at his command. It is the crux of the current debate on the rule of law in the country.

There is also another problem.

Ms Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of many, not least the Labour Party he leads. It is unclear whether the accused acted on their own initiative or were commissioned to carry out the murder. The investigations are not over and Dr Muscat should keep his distance because they may point to his government or party. Instead, he took centre stage.

The successful outcome of the investigation was truly an opportunity to show that the police corps worked at a distance from the government, but the inverse happened. It was like the police did not exist, that only the government existed, with the police at its service. It reinforces public perception, and clearly leaves the police in a bad light.

The Caruana Galizia family were succinct in their criticism. They said the police appeared to prioritise informing the Prime Minister of developments to the exclusion of the surviving members of the victim’s family.

In their eyes, the Prime Minister appears to view the investigation into Ms Caruana Galizia’s assassination as a marketing exercise for his government, and not as a contract killing.

That the police have been able to arraign suspects quite soon after the murder is certainly a feather in their cap. They should have been out there to announce their success, most especially their commissioner.

If the Police Commissioner cannot face the media and show leadership and autonomy from the government, it is just another reason for him to go.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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