Refalo, Bonnici maintain silence over stone marker, heritage register proposal

Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo and Heritage Minister Owen Bonnici have refused to answer questions on the status of a legally protected British-era stone marker found in Refalo’s courtyard after making diversionary calls for a national register for privately-held artefacts.

Last year, The Shift revealed that a Victorian stone marker was in Refalo’s possession, adorning the courtyard of one of his properties in Qala, Gozo. The offence, considered criminal in terms of the law, was discovered after it appeared in social media pictures uploaded by Refalo’s son.

Over the past year, repeated calls for Refalo’s resignation and prosecution were met with silence from Refalo himself, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa, and Superintendant of Cultural Heritage Kurt Farrugia.

Faced with fresh questions on the protected stone marker from Times of Malta last Tuesday, Refalo claimed he had no comments to offer, calling instead for the government to form a national register for privately-held artefacts.

When asked by The Shift for more details on his proposal for a register and whether he had submitted a list of artefacts in his possession to the Heritage Ministry for its formation, Refalo did not respond.

Refalo also did not answer questions on whether he pursued the creation of such a register during his time as chairman of Heritage Malta – the national agency for cultural conservation – between 2018 and 2020

Contacted over the phone by The Shift in July following claims that he would be facing criminal proceedings, Refalo did not allow enough time for The Shift to ask a single question and hung up at the mere mention of the newsroom’s name.

He did not answer any follow-up calls or text messages either.

Heritage Minister Owen Bonnici similarly chose to ignore The Shift’s questions on whether action had been taken against Refalo and how such a register could ever be legally harmonious with the artefacts’ protected status.

According to the Cultural Heritage Act, any citizen or resident of Malta who is found to be in possession of national heritage is liable to be prosecuted for a criminal act. The police and Superintendence of Cultural Heritage are obliged to file reports and take the necessary criminal action against the offender.

If found guilty, the crime is punishable with a fine “of not less than €2,000 and not exceeding €250,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years”.

VR stones used to be a common sight around Gozo up to a few decades ago and were used during the British period to indicate that a particular parcel of land belonged to the government (Victoria Regina), according to Wirt Għawdex.

Most, however, have been destroyed, fallen victim to development projects, or have simply disappeared, assumed to have been stolen.

                           

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