The government intends to spend more than €200,000 for a Gozitan artist to produce a still-unidentified new sculpture and to place it in one of the most remote areas of Gozo, far from the foreshore and next to historic and still productive saltpans.
The saltpan’s owners, who make a living from the area, have objected to the prospect. They claim the area is their private property and not public land and that the artistic installation will bring more visitors to the area, which will disturb the saltpans and their livelihood.
The Shift is informed that through a planning application filed last August by the Gozo Ministry’s Permanent Secretary John Borg, a planning permit was requested to install “a public sculpture along the coast” on Triq Is-Sagħtrija on the outskirts of Żebbuġ.
The area, better known as Xwejni, is one of the few remaining untouched areas of the island, usually only frequented by the saltpans’ owners and a few divers.
Asked to explain why the ministry chose a remote area in the middle of nowhere to install such an expensive sculpture, Borg did not reply. Neither did he reply to questions about what the sculpture will represent, who chose the remote area for its installation and who from the ministry had decided to spend such funds on the sculpture.
The Shift can report that the sculpture’s commissioning was awarded to renowned Gozitan artist Austin Camilleri in 2021 through a negotiated procedure – a form of direct order – for the sum of €209,000. It is still unclear whether the fee is all-inclusive, covering the statue’s mounting, or whether it is only for the artwork by Camilleri.
When contacted, the artist confirmed that he had been selected by the Gozo ministry to produce an artistic installation, but he did not divulge any details of its subject matter or why the remote spot had been chosen.
Insisting that it would not be a monument, Camilleri told The Shift that the installation would not commemorate any event or person.
“It is a public sculpture awarded after a public call in 2021, and, as most of my sculptures, it’s site-specific,” Camilleri told The Shift. “The site is important to the work, and it should be installed in the second half of 2023.”
Asked about claims that the area in question is private property, Camilleri told The Shift that “The Lands Authority confirmed that the site is government property and that it is not leased.”
Questions sent to the Lands Authority remained unanswered.
This is not the first time substantial public funds have been used by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri to award work to his constituents.
Apart from having recently granted €166,000 to Gozitan artist Vincent Caruana for a large bronze sculpture at the Mġarr Marina, he also paid €350,000 in direct orders to various companies for the installation of a large statue of St Francis of Assisi in front of his ministerial offices in Victoria.
The monument – dedicated to a saint associated with poverty – was inaugurated in the presence of Prime Minister Robert Abela during a massive party for Camilleri’s constituents in the summer of 2021 and was financed through various direct orders.