[WATCH] Culture Minister insists V18 transfers to satisfy ‘organisational needs’

Culture Minister Owen Bonnici denies allegations that high-profile transfers at Valletta 2018 Foundation were politically motivated

Culture Minister Owen Bonnici
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici
Minister Owen Bonnici defends V18 transfers

High-profile transfers at Valletta 2018 Foundation, just six months before start of events, were “purely organisational needs”, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici has declared, as he sought to placate rumours that the moves had been political motivated.

News that Karsten Xuereb and Margerita Pulé had been removed from their positions at V18 spread like wildfire last week, as the art community sought to understand what prompted the transfers.

The ministry has since announced that Catherine Tabone has been appointed as the foundation’s new executive director, replacing Xuereb, whilst Joanna Attard Mallia has been promoted to programme coordinator, instead of Pulé.

Pulé has been offered a position in another cultural entity.

“Organisations sometimes require changes for their own benefit. [Xuereb and Pulé] have been offered to work in equally important roles in other cultural sectors,” Bonnici said.

He went on to express his satisfaction that Xuereb had joined the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which was now “beefed up”.

Asked what were the organisational needs that prompted the transfers, Bonnici said that he had wanted to ensure “serenity” within the Foundation. He reiterated that the V18’s board of governors had unanimously supported the decisions taken. 

“I cannot understand where the allegations came from… politics had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Bonnici said, when asked to react to accusations that the decisions had been politically motivated.

He insisted that appointments had always been based on merit.

The transfers prompted a reaction by the European Commission’s panel monitoring Valletta 2018, which wrote to the government requesting clarification on the high-profile changes.

The committee had expressed concern over the “unexpected yet critical changes in the team and structure of Valletta 2018”.

“The sudden departures of the executive director [Karsten Xuereb] and an important part of the artistic team… are very risky steps at this stage,” panel chairman Ulrich Fuchs wrote, in a letter seen by The Times of Malta.

“It seems decisions that led to these changes have been taken without the usual legal requirements, due transparency and communication, notably among all members of the Board of the Foundation,” the panel said.

“Such profound structural changes in Valletta 2018 team only a few months before the opening compromises seriously the prestige and success of the European Capitals of Culture initiative in 2018 in Malta.”

More in Valletta 2018