Updated 6.40pm, adds ministry statement
The National Council of the Maltese Language has given Culture Minister Owen Bonnici 10 days to withdraw the legal notice to set up a Centre for the Maltese Language together with the appointment of its CEO, Norma Saliba.
Through a judicial protest against the minister, the council said the legal notice and the appointment were illegal since it was done without prior consultation.
The council’s judicial protest comes days after an expert in the Maltese language complained about the "humiliation" of the Maltese language and Saliba’s “illegal” appointment.
Saliba will head of a new centre for the language, despite not having any qualifications in the language and following the creation of the post without any consultation.
She was appointed as the executive director just weeks after she had been edged out of the TVM newsroom following disagreements with Public Broadcasting Services boss Mark Sammut.
The Centre for the Maltese Language will serve as the “administrative, organisational and operational organ of the National Council of the Maltese Language,” according to a legal notice published just before the announcement of the appointment.
According to legal notice 201/23, the Saliba-led centre will serve as the executive organ of the National Council of the Maltese Language and assist it in promoting the use of Maltese “through collaborations, publications and the utilisation of the internet and digital tools”.
Saliba was appointed to lead the centre by Bonnici, who said the new agency would “make a difference in safeguarding the Maltese language, especially within digital spheres”. A Culture Ministry press release that announced Saliba's appointment - as well as the creation of the new agency - noted she had won a journalism award in 2015 for her use of Maltese.
The council said Bonnici breached the law which bound him to make no regulation without having first consulted the council.
In a statement, the council said it was not formally informed what the minister had prepared and at no time did it present a draft of the legal notice so that the council could give its opinions and advice.
“The minister did not even bother convening the council so that they could discuss the establishment of the centre. The establishment of the centre was presented as a fait accompli and a unilateral imposition by the minister,” it said.
The council added that it was only after the legal notice was issued that it discovered, through media reports, that the minister had appointed Saliba to head the centre.
According to the council, the procedure adopted by Bonnici was vitiated and irregular because it breached the law.
It said the council held informal talks with Bonnici on the matter, during which it tried to convince him about this irregularity, but he insisted he is not ready to withdraw the legal notice or the appointment.
In the protest, the council warned the minister that it will escalate legal action if he does not reverse the illegality within 10 days.
The protest is signed by lawyer Claire Bonello.
Ministry denies not consulting council about legal notice, appointment
In a statement later, the ministry categorically denied that no consultations had been carried out before the regulations setting up by centre were published as well as about the choice of Saliba to head the centre.
The consultaitons, it said, were carried out directly between permanent secretary Joyce Dimech and council president Olvin Vella.
These had followed a meeting between the minister and Vella on June 20. This meeting had discussed the need for capacity building so that the much needed work to protect and promote the Maltese language could be carried out. To date, there is only one person employed with the council, the ministry noted.
It said that three days before the regulations were published, a draft was passed on to Vella who, at no time, asked for this to be delved into more deeply, for it not to be published, or for further meetings to be held.
Two days before their publication, a draft statement announcing the setting up of the centre and Saliba’s appointment had also been passed on to Vella. Asked by the communications officer whether it was fine to go ahead with the statement, Vella answered in the affirmative.
On August 14, Vella told Times of Malta he did not know about the new centre or the legal notice.
This, the minsitry said, was not true.
However, the rest of Vella’s comments - that he agreed the centre should be set up and also with Saliba’s appointment - were positive.
The ministry said that now that, for the first time in generations, the government is committing resources for much needed work to be done in favour of the language, work should be focused on obtaining the results the people expected.