He may be ignored or dismissed as someone with an agenda against Malta, but Council of Europe special rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt is an extremely effective anti-corruption giant and the Maltese government should really start taking him seriously unless they want to suffer the consequences.
Despite being subject to regular attacks, including from former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Omtzigt has forked out his own cash to find a resolution to the issue in Malta, funding extra visits to Europol, Malta, Germany, and the European Commission when authoring his report which the government is now under pressure to implement fully.
With a career as a political underdog who loves a great uphill battle, here are a few reasons why Malta should be taking Omtzigt very seriously.
1. He led the charge against Poland and their democratic deficit
While Omtzigt might be perceived as having gripes only against Malta, he’s also led the charge to ensure that others who are falling behind on their democratic responsibilities are held accountable.
Omtzigt led an approved resolution against Poland, an EU member state which has seen its rule of law and democratic institutions eroded in recent years. The report, which was postponed on several occasions until Omtzigt became its rapporteur, declared that the country’s reforms “severely damage the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law”.
Poland is the first-ever EU nation to be placed under full monitoring by the Council of Europe, which includes regular visits by a pair of PACE rapporteurs, ongoing dialogue with the authorities, and periodic assessments of how far a member state is honouring its Council of Europe obligations and commitments.
2. He has spearheaded a massive anti-corruption investigation in the Council of Europe
Together with Frank Schwabe, Omtzigt was a critical driving force in an anti-corruption investigation within the Council of Europe itself, which uncovered that Azerbaijan’s attempts to bride Council of Europe officials.
The scandal involved members or former members of PACE suspected of having been “bought” by the government of Azerbaijan, in exchange for a negative vote against a report denouncing the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
Some parliamentarians would have received in return for their vote benefits that, according to a source close to the pan-European institution, would have consisted of caviar from the Caspian Sea, carpets, or nights in luxury hotels.
Omtzigt led the charge to ensure a report and resolution will be passed on the issue.
Twelve politicians have been suspended, some of whom for life. Luca Volonte is facing charges in Italy. In Germany Karin Strenz (MP of CDU) and Eduard Lintner (former CSU junior minister) are under investigation for corruption, as are two former liberal MPs from Belgium, Alain Destexhe and Stef Goris.
3. He’s faced uphill battles at home…and won
Omtzigt has faced uphill battles at home in the Netherlands just as he has abroad. He was delisted from his party in 2012, only to fight back and win close to 33,000 votes to win his seat. His numbers would only go on to improve, taking home 93,000 votes in 2017.
He’s gone on to fight scandals in his home country. Over there last three years, he’s been uncovering a scandal in the Netherlands which sees ordinary families forced to repay child care benefits over false fraud accusations.
Thousands were left affected after they forced to pay massive sums, and in some cases even led to the loss of their house. His work yielded tremendous results, with a junior minister even paying the political price for their role in the scandal.
Last year, Omtzigt was even awarded a Dutch prize for political achievement, along with Renske Leijten, even though it usually awarded to a party leader or minister.
With the previous administration at often times confrontational with foreign criticism, it’s time for Malta’s new Prime Minister to start listening to the advice of others to help the country learn and grow from the current political crisis.