The debacle of a legal notice and legislation related to the establishment of the new Ċentru tal-Ilsien Malti has opened a can of worms at the Legislation Unit within the Office of the State Advocate.
Legal professionals close to the inner workings of the Unit speaking to The Shift anonymously say it is being overridden and treated merely “as an office of nuisance” by the ministries whose legislation the Unit is tasked with vetting before publication.
Last Friday’s legislation establishing the new Centre of the Maltese Language was a case in point. According to sources, the Culture Ministry ordered the legislation to be reviewed “in a matter of mere hours to be presented to Cabinet quickly and published immediately”.
The Legislation Unit within the Office of the State Advocate reviews legislation before it is presented to Cabinet. It is one of the last available checks and balances before legislation is made into law.
But, according to sources, it is merely “being treated as an office of nuisance by the ministries”.
They say the Unit’s changes to make legislation ‘legal’ and its protests that some requirements at law are being ignored by ministries. Requests for the allocation of more processing time to ensure that reviewed legislation is in full compliance with the law and translated properly are also falling on deaf ears.
Instead, the Unit’s reason for existence “has been whittled down to a mere rubber stamp”, where “quantity is valued over quality”.
One of the results was the Centre of the Maltese Language legislation containing the most basic of errors, such as citing the incorrect article of the Cultural Heritage Act that empowers the minister to create the new regulations.
Moreover, sources point out, the Maltese Language Act requires consultation with the Council before the minister makes regulations.
“So much so that, as a general rule of drafting legislation, when consultation with an entity/council/agency is required, the head thereof is included as a signatory of the regulations. In this case, neither the Chairman nor the Executive Director of the Council were included as signatories,” they explained.
That issue may be a technicality, but it is indicative of the headlong rush the government 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.
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici had almost 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 standard 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 its implementation to “the date on which all the provisions of the said Act shall be deemed to have come into force”.
The whole deal was to be sealed on Friday of last week 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 the following Monday, backdating the Centre’s inception to Friday.