All posts by Jurgen Cassar

Recommendations Implemented: Safety measures regarding vehicle idling on Gozo Channel ferries

In August 2023, a pressing concern was brought to light regarding the health risks associated with vehicle idling on Gozo ferries. This issue, initially highlighted by a concerned passenger, prompted an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman, leading to a set of recommendations aimed at enhancing passenger safety and ensuring compliance with established regulations.

In response to concerns raised about vehicle idling on Gozo ferries, steps have been taken to enhance safety and ensure adherence to established regulations. Following an investigation and subsequent recommendations by the Office of the Ombudsman, Gozo Channel has implemented a series of measures aimed at mitigating the health risks associated with this issue.

Implementation of Safety Measures:

No access to enclosed decks: In alignment with Gozo Channel’s Shipboard Operating Procedures, passengers are now prohibited from accessing enclosed decks while the vessel is in motion. This policy is enforced by the vessel’s master or a designated officer, ensuring that all passengers are aware of and comply with this rule.

Crew responsibilities: The crew members are tasked with ensuring that no passengers remain in their vehicles once the vessel is ready to depart. This involves a thorough check of the vehicle deck and directing passengers to the upper decks. Compliance is further ensured through PA system announcements informing passengers of the necessity to vacate the car deck.

Informational monitors at marshalling areas: Monitors are being installed at Cirkewwa and Mgarr to improve communication and awareness. These displays will continuously remind passengers of the policy against remaining in their vehicles and the requirement to turn off car alarms during the crossing.

Public awareness campaign: A press release has been issued to inform the public about the dangers of staying in the vehicle deck during crossings, emphasising the potential risks in emergency situations, such as a vehicle fire.

The Office of the Ombudsman welcomes the implementation of these recommendations, which is a critical step in ensuring a safer travel environment for all passengers and crew aboard the Gozo ferries.

The Office of the Ombudsman becomes an Associate Member of ENNHRI

From left to right: Ms Sirpa Rautio, ENNHRI Chair and Finnish Human Rights Centre, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, Parliamentary Ombudsman of Malta, and Ms Debbie Kohner, Secretary General of ENNHRI

The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) board has officially accepted the Office of the Ombudsman in Malta application for Associate Member status of the network. This marks the first stage of the Office of the Ombudsman joining ENNHRI.

The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions is an essential organisation that unites over 40 national human rights institutions across Europe. Its mission is to promote and protect human rights throughout Europe. It provides a collaborative platform for NHRIs, fostering solidarity and collective action to defend human rights and relative challenges, therefore serving as a unified voice at the European level.

The decision to become a member of ENNHRI forms part of the ongoing efforts by the Ombudsman to broaden its mandate to encompass the protection and promotion of human rights, aiming for the attainment of an NHRI with ‘A’ status.

Malta is one of the four remaining European Union member states without a National Human Rights Institution. Also, Malta is one of ten of the forty-six members of the Council of Europe that do not have an NHRI.

During a productive meeting with ENNHRI’s Secretary General, Ms Debbie Kohner, Parliamentary Ombudsman Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon outlined the proactive measures proposed by the Office of the Ombudsman in Malta as a practical solution for establishing a National Human Rights Institution. The pursuit of Associate Membership within ENNHRI was intended to emphasise the unique capacity and potential of the institution to fulfil the role of an NHRI within Malta.

This strategic initiative aims to bolster the role of the Ombudsman in defending and promoting fundamental human rights in Malta. Membership will facilitate deeper integration into the network, encouraging the exchange of information and best practices and enabling collaborative efforts to tackle current human rights challenges.

The Office of the Ombudsman eagerly anticipates exchanging knowledge and best practices with other NHRIs, contributing to capacity-building activities. This engagement is crucial for supporting NHRIs in meeting the UN Paris Principles’ compliance, particularly during their establishment and accreditation and in challenging times. Furthermore, ENNHRI plays a pivotal role in connecting NHRIs with European institutions, boosting their participation in regional mechanisms, increasing their visibility, and advocating on regional legal and policy developments.

Second Day on strong and effective NHRI Conference by FRA

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, participated in the second day of the conference on “Enhancing the Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: Strong and Effective NHRIs in the EU,” organised by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

During the second day, two important themes were discussed. The first panel explored ways forward for stronger and more effective NHRIs in the EU. In an intervention during the debate, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Zammit McKeon, welcomed the proposed conclusions of the Belgian Presidency of the European Council, encouraging member states to strengthen institutions like the Ombudsman that have a remit to protect the rule of law and human rights and give due recognition as valued actors.

The second theme discussed the different human rights structures and the role of strong NHRIs in wider Europe. It was encouraged that nations without NHRIs should establish independent institutions dealing with human rights and strengthen already existing structures in the promotion and protection of fundamental rights.

At the end of the conference, a declaration was approved: a conference statement on the role of National Human Rights Institutions, which recommended, among other things, establishing a strong and independent NHRI where it does not yet exist, and strengthening NHRIs in line with international standards and recommendations, including those from the international accreditation committee and the European Commission.

The full statement can be read here.

Extension of ERA permit rules to asphalt factories welcomed

The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Environment and Planning, Perit Alan Saliba, and the Commissioner for Health, Prof Ray Galea, within the Office the Ombudsman welcomes the draft bill extending the Environment and Resources Authority’s (ERA) permit rules to asphalt and chemical factories, as well as to cement packing facilities, proposed by the Ministry for Environment, Energy and the Regeneration of the Grand Harbour.

The proposed draft bill is in line with a recommendation that the Commissioners made on 24 January 2024 following an investigation into a complaint from residents affected by a facility.

The Commissioners had recommended that the Environment and Resources Authority propose specific regulations relating to asphalt plants to the Minister responsible for the Environment within a reasonable timeframe.

Parliamentary Ombudsman Participates in Conference on strong and effective NHRIs in the European Union

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, is participating in a two-day conference themed ‘Enhancing the Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: Strong and Effective NHRIs in the European Union’. The conference is organised by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

This event follows up on FRA’s report “Strong and Effective National Human Rights Institutions – Challenges, Promising Practices, and Opportunities”, which provided opinions and evidence on the need to further strengthen National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the EU.

The objectives of the conference are to:

  • Raise awareness and improve understanding of NHRIs’ role in enhancing the application of the EU Charter at the national level.
  • Allow participants to meet and network, creating links and fostering international cooperation and common approaches to the implementation of the EU Charter.
  • Showcase project results and learn from good practices developed so they can be adopted across countries and followed up in their respective nations.

Malta is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not have a National Human Rights Institution. The Office of the Ombudsman has long advocated for an expansion of its mandate to include a wider human rights remit and to obtain ‘A’ status as an NHRI.

Judge Zammit McKeon has proposed a practical solution to the government in this regard.

During the conference, officials from the European Union, the Fundamental Rights Agency, and the European Network of NHRIs (ENNHRI) highlighted the importance of member states having strong and effective NHRIs and implementing the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights of the European Union. NHRIs play a crucial role in promoting awareness of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, ensuring that national laws are compatible with rule of law principles and human rights including the Charter.

The first day of the conference discussed topics such as the Role of NHRIs in Promoting the Application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Role of NHRIs in Addressing Rule of Law Challenges, and Mainstreaming Fundamental Rights into EU Funds.

The Ombudsman was invited to participate by FRA, which aligns with his ongoing efforts to advocate for the establishment of an NHRI institution in Malta without further delay. The conference has brought together leaders from NHRIs, civil society organisations, government officials, representatives from EU institutions, and international organisations.

The Commissioner for Health welcomes the proposed constitution of an expert Board for ADHD medication review

The Commissioner for Health in the Office of the Ombudsman, Prof Ray Galea, welcomes the government’s decision to introduce an expert board that will review requests on a case-by-case basis in relation to ADHD medication not provided through the government formulary. This was announced by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Jo Etienne Abela.

The decision is in line with a recommendation made by the Commissioner for Health in May 2023 in the final opinion of an investigation into a complaint on the matter.

The Commissioner had recommended that “an adequate structure must be created or identified to deal with the individual cases that experience adverse events while on any particular treatment, in this case, methylphenidate. This structure should comprise multiple stakeholders who are well-versed in the matter.”

Own Initiative Investigation on the LSE waiting list and the length of the statementing process

Two cases involving autistic children brought to the attention of the Office of the Ombudsman have been resolved.

The Commissioner for Education within the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman notes with satisfaction that two cases, both involving autistic children, which were recently brought to his attention have been satisfactorily resolved, at least for the present, by the Department for Education.

One complaint was brought to the Commissioner’s attention on the 24th of January and was formally communicated to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry responsible for education in terms of Article 18(1) of the Ombudsman Act on the 27th. The other case was brought to the Commissioner’s attention on the 15th of January and was being monitored by the Commissioner for Education, in agreement with the parent who filed the complaint, without formal communication under Article 18(1).

Both cases were resolved, at least for the present, last week through the swift intervention of the Director General, Educational Resources and the indefatigable work of the Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability.

The Commissioner for Education has in the meantime and after consultation with the Ombudsman, as is required by law, initiated an ‘own initiative’ investigation regarding reports on the LSE waiting list and the length of the process of statementing. Meetings with stakeholders have commenced for objectively establishing the facts.

The Commissioner for Education reminds the stakeholders that the right to education is a fundamental human right, that children with learning problems deserve the best education that the State can provide both in line with domestic legislation and international obligations, and that the State has the duty to ensure that educators at all levels are adequately trained and fully competent to meet all the needs of the children entrusted to their care and to facilitate their development.

13.02.2024

Malta and UK Parliamentary Ombudsman address a thematic lecture in Parliament

Welcome to our online resource presenting the full suite of videos from the Thematic Lecture “The Parliamentary Experience: Reflections on the Past and Present. Looking to the future.”

Held on the 6th February 2024 in the Plenary Hall of the Malta Parliament, the lecture featured Mr Rob Behrens, CBE, UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and Health Service Ombudsman of England, as the keynote speaker. The Speaker of the House, the Hon. Anglu Farrugia, MP, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon also addressed the event.

This event was organised by the Office of the Ombudsman in Malta in collaboration with Parliament and was attended by Members of Parliament, Senior Public Service Officials, academics, and students.

The welcome address was by the Speaker of the House, the Hon. Anglu Farrugia, M.P.

Read the speech

Address by the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Malta, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon

Read the speech

Lecture by the UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and Health Service Ombudsman of England, Mr Rob Behrens, CBE

Those present had the opportunity to ask both ombudsmen questions on different issues related to their role.

Thematic Lecture: The Parliamentary Ombudsman Experience – Reflections on the Past, Present, and Looking to the Future

A Thematic Lecture on the Parliamentary Ombudsman Experience took place in the plenary hall of Parliament, organised by the Office of the Ombudsman in collaboration with Parliament. This event was highlighted by reflections on the past and present, with a forward-looking perspective by Mr Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman of the United Kingdom. Mr Behrens was in Malta at the invitation of the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Malta, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon.

In his welcome address, the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Anglu Farrugia, MP, stated that in our current landscape, the role of the Ombudsman remains as crucial as ever. Ombudsmen are not just mediators but guardians of justice, often standing as the last line of defence against administrative injustice. Amidst intermittent difficulties, many success stories set benchmarks for impartiality and effectiveness.

The Speaker revisited his previous remarks, recalling a discussion about the possibility of creating an ad hoc session in Parliament to debate the Ombudsman’s recommendations once they are tabled. He highlighted this approach as a potential initiative to foster agreement between the government and the opposition, which would enhance transparency and improve the processes for addressing issues that arise.

Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, emphasised the essential relationship between a civilised society and its steadfast commitment to democracy and human rights in his speech. He argued that democracy, underpinned by a strong system of checks and balances, is fundamental to a civilised society. This extends beyond traditional state organs to encompass the media, civil society, and constitutional bodies like the Office of the Ombudsman, which plays a pivotal role in ensuring government accountability and the protection of individual rights.

Ombudsman Zammit McKeon continued that he is convinced that the Office should also be a protector of human rights. So far, the Office in Malta, as the law stands at present, does not have that specific role. He believes that this should not remain the case, and it is a matter of public knowledge that he is striving very hard for this state of affairs to change as soon as possible.

Additionally, the Ombudsman highlighted the evolving challenges faced by modern democracies, particularly in light of government expansions and the creation of new administrative bodies. He underscored the Office’s independence as its strength, which is achieved through fearless action and building trust with the public. As democracies evolve, the role of the Ombudsman must also adapt to continue effectively safeguarding the rule of law and ensuring the public administration operates for the benefit of all citizens, thus maintaining the delicate balance of a thriving democratic society.

The keynote speaker, Mr. Rob Behrens, CBE, the UK Parliamentary Ombudsman, emphasized the importance of an Ombudsman’s independence and truthfulness in power dynamics. He described the role as more of an art due to the complexities and daily challenges faced, including navigating ambiguities and building crucial relationships with Parliament and jurisdictional bodies. Behrens stressed the need for impartiality and empathy towards individuals lodging complaints against well-resourced public entities, often seeing the Ombudsman as a final recourse for addressing service failures from government departments.

Those present had the opportunity to ask questions to both Ombudsmen on different issues related to their respective experiences.

In his concluding remarks, the Speaker of the House reflected: “Today’s lecture reinforces the significance of our Parliament, highlighting its role beyond just enacting laws and scrutinising the Executive. It underscores the importance of providing space for its officers, like the Ombudsman, to raise awareness about the country’s constitutional offices, further strengthening our democratic framework.

Speeches:

Speech by the Speaker of the House, the Hon. Anglu Farrugia

Speech by the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Malta, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon

UK Parliamentary Ombudsman visit to Malta

The UK’s Parliamentary Ombudsman and Health Service Ombudsman for England, Mr Rob Behrens, CBE, is visiting Malta at the invitation of the Malta Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon. He will deliver a Thematic Lecture titled ‘The Parliamentary Ombudsman Experience: Reflections on the Past and Present. Looking to the Future.’

Mr. Behrens’ visit began with a tour of the Ombudsman’s Office, where he was introduced to all the staff, highlighting the collaborative spirit of the institutions. Following the tour, he engaged in discussions with Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon and Commissioners: Perit Alan Saliba, Commissioner for Environment and Planning; Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent De Gaetano, Commissioner for Education; and Prof. Ray Galea, Commissioner for Health. These meetings focused on the evolving role of the Ombudsman in society and the importance of maintaining effective relationships with the public, public administration, and Parliament.

Later, both Ombudsmen paid a courtesy call on the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon. Anglu Farrugia. They explored the theme of the thematic lecture, set to take place in Parliament, focusing on the Ombudsman’s role in promoting government accountability and supporting democracy. The lecture will offer attendees the chance to ask questions and contribute to the discussion.

 

Ombudsman attends the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law

The Parliamentary Ombudsman Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon attended the 10th Anniversary celebration of the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ). The event, which was held under the auspices of the President of Malta, H.E. George Vella, marked ten years since the founding of the IIJ, emphasising its role in tackling terrorism and transnational crime globally.

The IIJ has been pivotal in developing capacity-building programmes that aid governments and practitioners in addressing contemporary security challenges. The Institute’s dedicated efforts facilitate effective and collaborative approaches to tackle these issues, emphasising the importance of international cooperation.

President Vella, in his address, lauded the synergistic achievements of the IIJ over the past ten years. He emphasised the Institute’s importance as a beacon of knowledge and innovation, crucial for fostering global security. The President underscored the IIJ’s role in enhancing the capabilities of criminal justice practitioners and creating platforms for the exchange of best practices within a framework that respects the rule of law and human rights standards.

Steven Hill, Executive Secretary of the IIJ, acknowledged the unwavering support of the Maltese Government and President Vella. He highlighted the Institute’s impressive reach, with over 9,000 alumni from 130 countries, a testament to its significant impact on the global stage.

The event was structured into three sessions:

First Session: Milestones, Challenges & Impact of the IIJ

This session was chaired by H.E. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, President of the Middle East Peace Forum and former Ambassador of the United States to Malta.

The panel included H.E. Olivier Caron, Ambassador and Special Envoy for Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, France; Ms. Gabriele Scheel, Head of Division for International Cooperation against Terrorism, Drug Trafficking, Organised Crime, and Corruption at the Federal Foreign Office, Germany; Mr. Robert Strang, Executive Director of the CEELI Institute, Czech Republic, and former Executive Secretary of the IIJ; and Mr. Thomas Wuchte, Founder of the Center for Multilateral Collaboration & Cooperation Leadership and former Executive Secretary of the IIJ.

Second Session: IIJ in Action

Chaired by Mr. Joe O’Connell and Mr. Suleyman Ozar, former Senior Advisors at the IIJ, this panel featured IIJ alumni including Ms. Carla Kabel from the Philippines, Ms. Clairette Sylvie Mankentsop Wamba from Cameroon, and Mr. Islam El-Ghazouly from Iraq.

Third Session: Adapting to the Changing Landscape of Counterterrorism

H.E. Natalia Gherman, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate at the United Nations, chaired the session.

Panelists were Mr. Alessandro Azzoni, Minister Plenipotentiary and Deputy Director General/Principal Director for Security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Italy; Dr. Şeyda Emek from the Office of the European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Council of the European Union; Ms. Faye S. Ehrenstamm, Director of the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training at the Department of Justice, United States; and Commander Dominic Murphy QPM, SO15 Counterterrorism Command, Metropolitan Police, United Kingdom.

Additionally, the event featured addresses by Mr. Christopher Cutajar, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and Trade, Malta, and member of the IIJ Governing Board of Administrators; Mr. Gregory LoGerfo, Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, United States; and Ms. Nkiruka Jones-Nebo, Director of the Department of International Justice Cooperation at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Nigeria.

The celebration of the IIJ’s 10th Anniversary marks a milestone in its journey and reinforces the collective commitment to justice and the rule of law, which is essential for combating terrorism and transnational crime in today’s interconnected world.

The Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Environment and Planning conduct an informative visit to WasteServ

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, along with Perit Alan Saliba, the Commissioner for Environment and Planning, conducted an informative visit to WasteServ. This visit was part of an ongoing communication between the Office of the Ombudsman and WasteServ, aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the company’s operations, projects, and waste management initiatives.

WasteServ, a government-owned limited liability company, falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman. It is tasked with organising, managing, and operating integrated waste management systems across Malta.

The delegation was welcomed at WasteServ’s ECOHIVE Complex in Magħtab by Mr Richard Bilocca, CEO of WasteServ. During the visit, Mr Bilocca led a two-hour comprehensive tour of Malta’s waste management infrastructure. He guided the Ombudsman and the Commissioner through various facility sections, covering aspects from waste separation to project planning and developmental stages at the ECOHIVE Complex. He elaborated on the initiatives undertaken in waste management and energy generation from waste.

Mr Bilocca highlighted that the implementation of mandatory waste separation and differentiated gate fees incentivising waste separation is bearing fruit, with noticeable increases across all waste streams. He reiterated WasteServ’s commitment to steering Malta’s waste management sector towards an era defined by the circular economy principles, affirming that this mission is well on track.

A detailed tour of a new automated material recovery facility was provided during the visit. This facility processes 100% of grey and green recyclable collection bags generated in Malta and Gozo. The new facility has drastically improved processing efficiency. The delegation also saw the power generation infrastructure that currently converts all organic waste collected in Malta into renewable energy. The landfill infrastructure within the ECOHIVE complex was also part of the visit.

The Commissioner for Environment and Planning, Perit Alan Saliba, noted with satisfaction the landfill mining studies being carried out by WasteServ at the Żwejra landfill within the complex, which will result in the removal of the dumped material and the excavation of the site to make way for a longer-lasting landfill whilst at the same time making use of the excavated material being extracted without the further take-up of additional footprint.

The Ombudsman, Judge Zammit McKeon, emphasised the significance of such visits, noting that they provide invaluable insights into the initiatives and projects to help Malta meet its EU-imposed waste management targets. He also called for heightened awareness and proactive involvement from the public and private sectors, underscoring the collective responsibility to achieve these goals.