The legislation creating the new Centre of the Maltese Language, where former PBS head of news Norma Saliba found a soft landing after her sudden departure from the state broadcaster, appears to have been created in such a rush that the legislation’s commencement notice had to be backdated.
In a surprise announcement last Friday, the government announced the creation of the new Ċentru tal-Ilsien Malti and that Saliba, who resigned from PBS at the end of July after months of being at loggerheads with Executive Chairman Mark Sammut, was to head it up.
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici issued a practically simultaneous four-page legal notice establishing the Centre and a press release naming Saliba as its head on Friday afternoon.
The normal procedure is for the legislation to be published as a Legal Notice, which is then followed up by a Commencement Notice establishing “the date on which all the provisions of the said Act shall come into force” – in the future.
But in the case of the new Ċentru tal-Ilsien Malti, the legislation was published on Friday and a commencement notice wasn’t published until Monday, backdating “the date on which all the provisions of the said Act shall be deemed to have come into force” to last Friday.
This latter scenario is not completely unheard of but it is rarely the case.
Sources familiar with the situation have observed that given the government’s rush to put a lid on a potentially explosive PBS fallout situation by creating the Centre and a new position for Saliba, there wasn’t enough time to publish the legislation and then a commencement notice for a future date on which the legislation is to come into force.
The whole deal was to be sealed on Friday with the legislation published and Saliba being officially announced by way of a Department of Information press release. The commencement notice was to be published on Monday, backdating the Centre’s inception to last Friday.
The announcement even came as a surprise to the National Council of the Maltese Language, even though it should have been informed.
That is because the Centre, according to the legislation, is to have the “primary purposes of supporting the administration, organisation and operation of the Council, assisting the Council in the fulfilment of its functions and carry out projects for the further advancement of the Maltese language”.
The Council’s chairman Olvin Vella told The Times that he did not know of the Legal Notice or Saliba’s appointment, but welcomed them both. Vella told the newspaper that he had heard a few weeks ago that Saliba was to begin assisting with the Council’s administration, but he had no idea that she would be doing so as the head of a state entity.
Saliba’s centre gets clout over the council
But, in actual fact, the Centre being run by Saliba since last Friday, according to the legislation, “shall be an executive organ of the Council, responsible for the day-to-day management of the Council”.
Moreover, Saliba appears to have been given considerable clout over the pre-existing Council that it is meant to merely support in its functions.
According to the legislation, the Centre “supports the other organs of the Council in their functioning and implementation of their functions”.
Such support will be in the particular form of, but not limited to, “the design of work plans and their implementation” and “the realisation of the respective projects”.
The legislation also stipulates that the Centre’s executive head, Saliba, “may establish units, divisions and sections that are necessary in (sic) the organisational structure for efficient management of the affairs and work of the Council and of the Centre”.
Moreover, it will be the Centre that will enter into a performance agreement with the Culture Ministry’s Permanent Secretary to regulate the operations of both the Council and the Centre. The agreement will also cover the completion of the Council’s projects including the observation of their relevant time targets.
The Council’s chairman, however, appears to be looking on the bright side. Vella told The Times on Monday, “I do not know who Saliba is, I cannot judge her as I never watched TVM news and do not know much about her work, but I am pleased to meet a pleasant surprise.
“Judging by her experience, I am sure she has the capacity for such a role. Let us work together for our Maltese language.”
Saliba resigned from her post at PBS in late July after a fallout with PBS executive chairman Mark Sammut.
According to PBS sources who spoke to The Shift last July, Sammut had already given Saliba several disciplinary warnings, mainly concerning insubordination, and her departure from the state broadcaster was seen as the final act in a long-drawn-out power struggle.
Saliba’s political appointment by Abela as PBS head of news in 2020 raised concerns given her history as a ONE TV reporter and considering PBS’s already pro-government leanings.
In fact, following her appointment, Saliba’s gatekeeping was seen to have gone a notch further in favour of the Labour Party, with the Broadcasting Authority admonishing PBS on many occasions for bias.