Minister disregarded law by not consulting Maltese Language Council on Saliba's appointment

Culture Minister Owen Bonnici ignored the law and did not consult the Maltese Language Council before pushing ahead with regulations to set up a new language entity headed by former TVM head of news Norma Saliba

Culture Minister Owen Bonnici (Photo:James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici (Photo:James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Culture Minister Owen Bonnici disregarded the law when he failed to consult the National Council of the Maltese Language before appointing Norma Saliba as head of a newly created language body.

The Maltese Language Act specifically states in Article 24 that the minister has to consult with the Council when making regulations impacting its work.

Saliba will be heading a new entity called the Centre of the Maltese Language set up recently by legal notice, which is by and large the operational arm of the Maltese Language Council. But in comments to the media, the Council's head, Olvin Vella, said the plans to set up the new centre and Saliba's appointment were unknown to him and came as a surprise.

Article 24 of the Maltese Language Act, which was used as a legal basis for Saliba’s appointment states that, “In order to give better effect to the provisions of this Act and without prejudice to the generality of the aforementioned, the Minister may, after consultation with the Council, make regulations relating to any function of the Council...”.

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on Thursday morning, former Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi cited the English version of the legal notice that created the new entity, noting that it was quoting Article 24 of the Cultural Heritage Act - an unrelated law. Azzopardi said this error nullified the new entity and the post.

However, government sources later pointed out that a difference between the Maltese and English translations of the legal notice was to blame for Azzopardi’s erroneous conclusion. While the Maltese version of the legal notice quotes the Maltese Language Act correctly, the English version quotes the Maltese Cultural Heritage Act, and according to Maltese law, if such differences arise, the Maltese translation is supreme.

This means the new council has been set up according to the correct legal provisions, however, the minister has disregarded the obligation to consult the council. When addressing the media about the matter earlier this week, Bonnici had stated that the council had been urging for the creation of a similar entity for a number of years. Despite this, it is not clear what form of consultation took place prior to the appointment, as the law does not state the degree of consultation that is required.

Saliba only recently resigned from head of news at TVM at the end of July following a clash with the national broadcaster's chairman. She had been out on long leave and her father had also written to all ministers complaining at the way his daughter was being treated.

Saliba's new appointment last week came as a surprise to many and no call for applications was issued for the post.

READ ALSO: Norma Saliba steps down from TVM head of news, blames ‘character assassination campaign’