MEPs who recently came to Malta on a fact-finding mission about the implementation of the rule of law reforms enacted in the aftermath of the brutal assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were far from impressed.

Addressing the media at the end of their three-day visit during which they met with Malta’s top brass, the chairperson of the working group, Sophie IN ‘T Veld expressed her disappointment that even through efforts had been made, the situation on the ground remained largely unchanged. She noted that Malta’s judicial process remained “excruciatingly slow”. While in countries like Slovakia, the murder case of journalist Jan Kuciak who was killed in 2018 – after Caruana Galizia – has been closed, in Malta the alleged mastermind has not yet been convicted. Moreover, this sentiment is palpable across the entire judicial system. Despite the increase in the number of judges and magistrates and the new mechanism for their appointment which no longer hinges on political decisions, it is essential that high-profile financial and economic crimes, especially corruption and money laundering, be prosecuted rigorously.

Meanwhile, Malta’s police force has once again been in the news for the wrong reasons amid worrying evidence that certain investigations were either placed on the back burner or else nobody wanted to lift a finger. While we will not go as far as saying that there was political interference, certain questions need to be answered. Why was an international arrest warrant for More Supermarket owner Ryan Schembri only issued seven years after he disappeared? Similarly, questions were also raised after it transpired that Iosif Galea, who is being investigated over very serious crimes, was allowed to leave Malta several times. The fact that he was arrested while on holiday in Italy with a group that included former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was the cherry on the cake. It is of little consolation that an internal probe has been launched by the police force. The fact remains that such incidents are eroding the trust in Malta’s institutions, if not locally, surely to the outside world.

Ending the culture of impunity cited in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry requires wholehearted and cross-party acknowledgement of the problems, genuine reforms and bold political decisions. Reforms alone will only serve to tick the boxes but ultimately the litmus test is what happens on the ground. Until the day arrives when court proceedings end in reasonable time, authorities act without fear and favour and nobody feels above the law, the prospects of an improvement are rather grim. Indeed, until now these rule of law reforms have been a case of too little, too slow, too late.