Restoring Selmun Palace

If the Palace needs a hotel or some other commercial venture to be maintained, it should be designed with taste and with the full awareness of the status of Selmun Palace as a listed historical building

Selmun Palace has been abandoned for years
Selmun Palace has been abandoned for years

Last Thursday’s GWU daily l-orizzont carried a story on its back page saying that the Finance Ministry has announced that it will be issuing a tender calling for the restoration of Selmun Palace. The value of the tender is estimated to be some €575,255.

The Palace has been abandoned for quite some time. Air Malta closed the Selmun Palace Hotel - that included the palace - and subsequently sold it to the government in 2011, in an exercise that was intended as part of the attempt to shore up Air Malta’s ever increasing deficit.

I am all in favour of restoring old historic buildings, so long as one knows what the restored building is going to be used for, and also by whom when it belongs to the State, as in this case. More so if the restoration aims at protecting the property's historical significance and aesthetics by preserving its original materials. This may include upgrading or replacement of elements that are damaged beyond repair.

Selmun Palace looks beautiful from a distance but it is dilapidated internally. However, looking beautiful is not always enough if the building no longer fits the country’s needs. Older buildings can also be expensive to maintain, but I do not think that, in this case, anyone agrees that it is to be demolished!

Regeneration is an important element of conserving our architectural heritage. It gives a new lease of life to old buildings and ensures their continued re-use, which is in the national interest. It allows current and future generations to experience and benefit from the physical expression of past generations.

Architectural conservation is extremely important in preserving our historic buildings. Put simply, it is about restoring old and historic buildings using appropriate methods and materials to preserve the building. It is essentially about making the best of the buildings we already have. Heritage building conservation enables people to restore these buildings while at the same time bringing them into the twenty-first century. Building conservation should aim to restore our cultural heritage while also adding value to the building and its surroundings.

Another issue that strikes me is that the call for bids is being issued by the Ministry of Finance with the Minister of Tourism, Clayton Bartolo, just applauding the idea - at least as reported in l-orizzont. The Ministry responsible for the Lands Authority - which is responsible for all government property - seems to be completely out of the equation. How do the responsibilities and the abilities of the people at the Ministry of Finance fit into this?

I do not think it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance to issue such a tender, but under the current administration every Minister has become a demigod. Who has compiled the bill of quantities for the job? Has the Ministry of Finance any employees who do this or who can monitor the works that will be carried out by the successful bidder?

The obvious question is: why is the tender not being issued by the Ministry responsible for Heritage Malta?

Obviously, any clear-headed person would conclude that this contract should have been issued by Heritage Malta with the Ministry of Finance providing the funds.

Selmun Palace is scheduled as a Grade 1 building and its proposed re-use, as far as I know, is not officially in the public realm. There are two possibilities. One is that there is no decision on the re-use of the Palace. This makes the expense intended to restore it a sheer waste of money. The other is that its re-use is part of some unannounced project that will benefit someone in the government’s ‘good’ books.

Nothing is being said of the obtrusive and decrepit adjacent hotel built in the Mintoff years. In my opinion this should be demolished completely.

If the Palace needs a hotel or some other commercial venture to be maintained, it should be designed with taste and with the full awareness of the status of Selmun Palace as a listed historical building.

Is this the ultimate aim of the renovation of Selmun Palace?

Just a dead horse!

The news that a neglected horse died on New Year’s Day after months of starvation has shocked many.

According to reports, a horse rescue team attempted to save the severely neglected horse that had endured two years of unspeakable suffering. These details result from a Facebook piece posted by horse rescuer Korin Farrugia and has provoked a public reaction. It has ignited debates once again for the need of stricter regulations and greater awareness regarding animal welfare.

After its death, a veterinarian discovered that the horse had resorted to consuming stones, glass, and pieces of wood in a desperate bid for survival.

The horse's tragic story also shed light on the challenges faced by animal rescue organisations, which often operate with limited resources and struggle to accommodate the overwhelming number of animals in need.

The rescuer also shared a personal regret, ironically revealing that the horse had been offered for rescue almost two years ago by the original owner. But the horse couldn't be taken in because of capacity constraints at the time.

What about the official side of this story?

On its website, the Animal Welfare Directorate says it is ‘continuously committed to provide an efficient and effective service to the general public’. It boasts that through all its services, the Directorate ensures that all Maltese and Gozitans find readily-available and easily-accessible necessary information and assistance related to animal welfare.

During the COVID pandemic, the Directorate boasted that it had launched an initiative through which it supported dog or cat owners living on their own, in the eventuality that these pet owners required medical attention in hospital.

It seems that for the Animal Welfare Directorate only cats and dogs are animals. Privately owned horses - and even exotic animals - are not on their radar!

From what one can surmise from the various reports in the media, the Animal Welfare Directorate did not raise a finger to try to save this horse.

Yet the Animal Welfare Directorate on its website boasts that it strives to continue offering an effective and efficient service, and to provide information and necessary assistance to further protect the well-being of animals.

Tell it to the marines!