Olvin Vella, the Chairperson of the National Council of the Maltese Language, is refusing to step down from his position despite being caught in a lie about communication received from the Culture Ministry on the set-up of the controversial new Centre of the Maltese Language.
Vella had said he did not know of plans for the creation of the Centre, which was hurriedly set up last month by Minister Owen Bonnici, only to backtrack later and claim he was made aware ahead of time but believed it was a done deal after evidence of the communication from the ministry was published.
The Centre of the Maltese Language was set up last month as the “executive organ” for the long-standing Council. Bonnici appointed former PBS Head of News Norma Saliba as the executive head of the new Centre after Saliba’s fallout with PBS executive chairman Mark Sammut.
Faced with screenshots of chat conversations showing he was contacted ahead of time about the Centre’s set-up, Vella backtracked on previous statements where he claimed the Centre was “a pleasant surprise”. Instead, he told The Times of Malta he believed the Centre’s set-up was presented to him as a fait accompli.
When contacted by The Shift, Vella refused to go on the record when asked whether members of the Council made any calls for his resignation, claiming he would be “playing other people’s games” if he answered.
Vella opted instead to provide the timeline of events previously reported on The Times and directed The Shift’s questions to his lawyer, Claire Bonello. She did not respond to any of The Shift’s attempts to contact her.
The Shift’s requests to the Council for copies of meeting minutes and official correspondence also remained unanswered.
The Centre’s set-up last month through a backdated legal notice caused controversy given its rushed creation and Saliba’s political appointment as its executive head.
Legal experts who reached out to The Shift even pointed out how the legislation had been drafted so haphazardly that it had not even cited the correct article of the Cultural Heritage Act that empowers the minister to create the new regulations.
On 31 August, the Council filed a judicial protest against Minister Bonnici for publishing the legislation setting up the Centre without consulting the Council “as obliged by law”. The Council maintains that the manner in which Vella was contacted does not constitute an official consultation.
The judicial protest gave Bonnici 10 days since it was published, until last Sunday, to “revoke the illegality”, threatening to otherwise proceed against him in court.