A veil of secrecy hangs on a €15,000 painting bought last year by the Office of the Prime Minister from the artist-husband of a Cabinet minister, even after a formal request for a picture was made in Parliament.
Questions on the whereabouts of the painting, sent on Tuesday to Heritage Malta, which had endorsed the acquisition, were not answered.
The purchase of the oil on canvas painting by Patrick Dalli, who is married to Equality Minister Helena Dalli, remained unnoticed for over a year.
The Times of Malta reported last week that the only information ever published on this acquisition appeared in The Malta Government Gazette of November 3, 2017.
According to a notice, Mr Dalli pocketed €15,000, without VAT, for “the provision of an oil on canvas painting” to the Finance and Administration Directorate within the Office of the Prime Minister. No reference to it was found in the Heritage Malta 2017 annual report.
The Office of the Prime Minister only commented on the matter after Times of Malta carried the story, although it had been contacted in advance.
While heaping praise on Mr Dalli’s artistic talent, the government said in a statement such acquisitions were never made through a public procurement process. No further details were given and Mr Dalli was not forthcoming when the Times of Malta sought his reaction.
The lack of information prompted Opposition MP Simon Busuttil to table a parliamentary question asking, among other things, for a photo of the painting bought from taxpayers’ money to be tabled in the House of Representatives.
Normal practice for the State to enrich its collections
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said it was normal practice for the State to enrich its collections with works of art purchased from local artists. There was even a specific budget administered by Heritage Malta, known as the Contemporary Art Fund, that was being used for such purpose, he added.
A total of €400,000 had been spent to buy over 100 works of art from more than 40 artists over an eight-year period, Dr Muscat said.
As for Mr Dalli’s painting, he pointed out it had been endorsed by Heritage Malta for both its artistic quality and price.
The Prime Minister noted that, in 2010, Mr Dalli had been chosen by the same agency to exhibit his works at the National Art Museum. In line with standard practice, the artist had donated one of his paintings to the national collection.
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