No corruption then?

Towards the end of 2017, this newspaper carried an article on the now apparently dysfunctional Permanent Commission Against Corruption, which has been in limbo for more than half a year. The heading said the commission is unable to function without a Nationalist Party nominee and the accompanying photograph was that of a protester at a PN event in April holding a placard that read: “Those who do not fight corruption are corrupt themselves.”

They were the famous words of President Emeritus and former prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami uttered repeatedly during the less famous, dying years of the Labour administration of the 1980s. It was a rallying cry that appealed to individual responsibility to fight what undermines society the most – corruption.

The PN did not like the use of that photo and made that known to this newspaper. Clearly, the message had been driven home and, yet, we are still without the commission.

Former PN leader Simon Busuttil had practically based his whole electoral campaign on corruption. The very election itself, called a year too early, took place in the shadow of corruption allegations.

When Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered, State institutions came across as in total meltdown. It was the collapse of rule of law and this country has been there before.

Soon after it was elected to power in 1987, the PN administration set up the Permanent Commission Against Corruption to try to prevent a repetition of what happened under Labour. Not that such a commission prevented corruption but it was an added deterrent.

The commission has all the makings of an institution the country direly needs. And, yet, it is in limbo. Not that it has not happened before. Soon after Labour came to office in 2013, the commission’s term ended in November and it took a whole year to see it reappointed. This time around, it appears the Nationalist Opposition is stalling.

The commission, chaired by Judge Lawrence Quintano, could no longer function pending the appointment of two members after lawyer Yana Micallef Stafrace was appointed magistrate and former magistrate Joe Cassar passed away. The government says that, back in April, it had informed the Opposition it was appointing Philip Magri to replace Dr Micallef Stafrace.

Admittedly, there was a snap election and a PN leadership race since then, but that is no reason to delay such a crucial appointment. The best the PN could come up with was that it was still awaiting a reply from the nominee it had selected. That’s rather overdue.

PN leader Adrian Delia has a lot on his plate, priority among which is finding ways to win back former Nationalists alienated over the years. But in doing that, he must not alienate instead the dwindling number of PN supporters who voted for the rule of law at the last election. Dr Delia’s ‘new way’ cannot be the abandonment of the party’s key principles and, most especially, its basic electoral programme – good governance.

The commission is an effectively tool to combat corruption. Not long ago it rapped former Labour general secretary Jimmy Magro over bribe allegations. That the police has not moved on the case only serves to underline the urgency to get the commission going again.

As Ms Caruana Galizia rightly put it, the situation is truly desperate.

This is a Times of Malta daily print editorial

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