Letters: 21 February 2016

Mutiny at the Royal Malta Yacht Club

As European boat owners are flocking into Malta to berth their sporting and cruising yachts, unfortunately some sporting traditional institutions are oblivious of the country’s thrust and lag: one case in point is the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

In 2008, the Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Georges Bonello Dupuis, finalised the deal with the government to move the club out of Fort Manoel into the old Customs house in Ta’ Xbiex, a bold move which proved to be a turning point in the club’s history.

He undertook a fund-raising campaign to renovate the run-down building into a modern club with reasonable facilities, including a marina, gym, offices and conference rooms. The club is what it is today thanks to Mr Bonello Dupuis’s leadership, with a bullish, controversial, unwanted behaviour. 

In spite of the good things, Mr Bonello Dupuis’s long tenure of over nine years as Commodore was much stained by a management style in the running of a committee with hermetic and closed access to club members on internal resolutions by law statutes and interpretations, and finances which have worsened during the past four years.

Members complain about the lack of routine information on the club’s running, the ignoring of statutes in various items, which appear to be interpreted only for the executive committee’s interest rather than for members’ needs and requests.

The committee, run by eight members and an honorary president, have an average member age of approximately 65 years, with the eldest at 82, and the permanence of the tenures of the present members unusually long at an average of 15 years, with some sitting in for more than 20. The club’s identity appears blurred and confusing, given its proud Maltese governance, while claiming allegiance to the British Crown ostensibly under the Blue ensign, with out-dated laws that do not reflect the free independent country Malta is proud to be.

These long tenures have been the cause of strong criticism of cronyism within the committee, which has become increasingly arrogant towards its members and is managing the club in a “closed ivory tower” – the members’ only chance to voice their complaints and proposals is in the AGM, largely attended by a very small group of followers.

The absence of members at the AGM is a consequence of the blocked balloting voting system the club has to elect members. It was designed to keep a group of committee members in power by having the requirement to necessarily vote for a minimum of five posting nominees, which year after year have been the longstanding committee members. There is no possibility for an open free balloting system, given the existing system within the statutes.

The troubled finances, at breakeven with a minor surplus, hardly allows for proper maintenance. Grand projects require constant sponsorship and the opening of the gates to any new member who can foot the cheap membership fee of €120 annually. New members’ applications are not posted on the club’s noticeboard for member comments as required by the statutes, eroding the elite status the club enjoyed in the past.

After four years on the sidelines, Bonello Dupuis posted his nomination for committee at the AGM in February 2014. Having lost at the ballot, he staged a slanderous tantrum in the club’s bar against the existing Commodore, the secretary of the club and two employees, accusing them of rigging the votes and calling the executive committee “corrupt”. Strange, given he ran the Committee for a very unusually long tenure.

Bonello Dupuis insulted other members present, and had to be held back by another executive committee member.

The multiple written and verbal complaints to the executive committee on Bonello Dupuis’s tantrum and other unwanted behaviour went unacknowledged and ignored for 11 months.

After six months since this incident, Bonello Dupuis was invited back to the committee by the Commodore, generating a strong reaction from members who applied pressure to have their complaints on Bonello Dupuis’s behaviour acknowledged and apply the disciplinary statute’s clauses – paid advertisements in the press were used to capture the club’s attention, also ignored to date.

It is sad that a club that has positively impacted the sport’s growth and contributed to a thriving nautical suppliers industry, is declining in sailing activities, has members mostly holding dual membership with other clubs, and could now face extinction rather than evolution if it is unable to adapt towards a more modern, open and ethically responsive governance that attracts the young sports market participating in more and more international sailing events.

The upcoming AGM on 22 February poses a unique opportunity for change, with an unprecedented number of new young nominations put forth. If clean, honest vote counting takes place – and most importantly the full voting members now support the five new nominees to the executive committee – maybe the club’s old guard can be replaced with new blood.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club has all the elements to become the most recognised and respected sail club in the Mediterranean. Our country could benefit not only as the cultural centre of Europe in 2018, but also as the centre of nautical sports in the Mediterranean and Europe.

It will be up to its full members to push for a long overdue governance change with their active vote or to keep a hushed up business as usual in the presently stagnant decadent club.

Jose Carlos Noriega Munro, Ta’ Xbiex