PEN International has called on the Maltese government to review the decision to promote the Labour Party stalwart Jason Micallef to Chairman of the Valletta Cultural Agency.
“Dismayed” at the news, the highly respected international NGO has called for the Maltese government to “urgently reconsider this promotion and hold him accountable for his vilification of Daphne Caruana Galizia”.
We are dismayed by Jason Micallef’s appointment as chair of Valletta Cultural Agency despite an obvious conflict of interest. @MaltaGov must urgently reconsider this promotion and hold him accountable for his vilification of #DaphneCaruanaGalizia.https://t.co/xOVfifcFMz
— PEN International (@pen_int) April 9, 2019
PEN was referring to Micallef’s repeated attempts to mock the assassinated journalist while he held the position of Chairman of V18 Capital of Culture. He also regularly called for the removal of banners calling for justice for Caruana Galizia, calling them “another act of provocation”.
Over 300 writers signed the letter calling for his removal from position, including Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and a number of world-renowned journalists. National and international artists had joined calls for his removal, even by 72 MEPs and civil society activists.
PEN had criticised “the total lack of accountability in Malta” in a letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and on the one-year anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s assassination, PEN International had said in an op-ed that it was “a dark day for Malta“.
In a post on social media while he was still V18 chairman, Micallef posted a photo of revellers on St Patrick’s Day in St Julian’s, mocking the slain journalist’s last words “the situation is desperate”.
His behaviour had led to a diplomatic rift with the twin capital of culture Leeuwarden- Friesland. The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Stef Blok was called on to intervene after comments made by Micallef about Caruana Galizia led to a dispute between the two committees. Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had defended Micallef’s comments as “free speech” during a live press conference.
PEN International’s tweet followed the news that Micallef was to be appointed chairman of the new Valletta Cultural Agency, while also being the executive chairman of One Productions – the Labour Party in government’s media house.
This should constitute a conflict of interest because Micallef should have been disqualified from holding his new position in the agency, according to Maltese law. Anyone with “financial or other interests in any enterprise of activity which is likely to affect the discharge of these functions” is barred.
However, a provision was inserted into the law allowing the same Minister who defended him to waive the disqualification at his discretion. Notice of the waiver was posted in the Government Gazette on 29 March, one day after the new agency was launched. In the notice, Micallef stated his interest and the Minister waived it.
But the outrage from PEN International, is not only related to the very obvious conflict of interest that still exists despite the “waiver” from Bonnici.