Culture Minister Owen Bonnici appears to have been in such a rush to find and announce a new position for the recently-resigned head of PBS news Norma Saliba that the legislation establishing the new surprise Centre for the Maltese Language that she is to head contains the most basic of errors that have rendered it invalid.
Soon after The Shift published an article on Wednesday highlighting how the legislation had been drafted in such a rush that its commencement notice had to be backdated, several legal experts came forward to The Shift.
They pointed out how the legislation had been drafted in such a slipshod manner that it had not even cited the correct article of the Cultural Heritage Act that empowers the minister to create the new regulations.
That, according to legal experts, has rendered the entire legislation null and void until the matter is corrected at law.
Until then, as lawyer and former MP Jason Azzopardi, for one, has observed, any Member of Parliament is currently able to file a motion to have the legislation repealed as matters stand.
“I invite any MP to introduce a parliamentary motion today for this legal notice to be deleted,” Azzopardi said on social media. “What is null only produces nullity.”
Last Friday’s legal notice cites Article 24 of the Cultural Heritage Act as the point of law empowering the minister to establish the Centre: “In exercise of the powers conferred by article 24 of the Cultural Heritage Act, the Minister responsible for the Maltese language has made the following regulations…”
The problem is that Article 24 of the Cultural Heritage Act deals with financial estimates and provisions of entities falling under the Act. Article 24 specifically, and only, states that “All estimates and supplementary estimates approved by the House shall, as soon as practicable, be published in the Gazette”.
While it may have been an oversight that can be easily addressed through a new legal notice, it means that, technically speaking, the new Centre for the Maltese Language and Saliba’s appointment as its head are not yet valid or legal. As of this morning, no such new legal notice had been published.
The issue may be a technicality but it is indicative of the headlong rush the government – via Culture Minister Owen Bonnici, who is responsible for both PBS and the Maltese language – was in to placate Saliba with a new position after her sudden departure from the state broadcaster at the end of July following reported discord with the state broadcaster’s Executive Chairman Mark Sammut.
Bonnici had practically simultaneously issued a four-page legal notice establishing the Centre and a press release naming Saliba as its head on Friday afternoon, followed by a backdated commencement notice three days later, on Monday.
The normal procedure is for the legislation to be published as a Legal Notice, followed 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.
Sources familiar with the situation have observed that given the government’s hurry to diffuse the PBS powder keg 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 through 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 since 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 legislation also gives the new Centre responsibility for the “day-to-day management of the Council”.
According to the legislation, the Centre “supports the other organs of the Council in their functioning and implementation of their functions and 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 empowers the Centre’s Executive Head, Saliba, to “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 the Centre”.
The Centre 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 completion of the Council’s projects, including the observation of their relevant time targets.