Bonnici: Heritage agencies to be given more resources

Heritage Malta and Superintendence of Cultural Heritage to be given more resources, justice and culture minister says. 

Heritage Malta and Superintendence of Cultural Heritage need a revamp to reflect today’s realities, justice and culture minister Owen Bonnici said.

Tonight, Parliament discussed the motion on the financial estimates of Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which was yesterday postponed after opposition MP Francis Zammit Dimech argued that since the motion did not include Heritage Malta’s accounts and annual report the motion was invalid.

However, the minister tabled Heritage Malta’s annual report and promised that the necessary documents would be tabled once these are available to him.

Kicking off the debate Bonnici explained that the two agencies play a vital role in the maintenance of the country’s cultural heritage and in order to increase their efficiency he would be proposing a number of amendments to the law regulating the two bodies.

Firstly, Bonnici said, a number of amendments to the 2002 Cultural Heritage Act would be presented in the coming weeks.

“I believe that the time has come to review the law which was last amended in 2005 to ensure that it is relevant to current realities,” the minister said.

“This government is committed to increasing the resources at the superintendence, which only had 11 operating officials when we took office last year,” he added.

The minister said that a 2006 report had suggested that the superintendence needed at least 30 officers, adding that once the Management Efficiency Unit completes its report, government would be evaluating the costs of this exercise and carry out the necessary changes.  

Turning to Heritage Malta, Bonnici said that in 2013 the agency did not register any losses, however he warned that the particular circumstances the agency is facing in 2014, especially the temporary closure of the Hypogeum and the Tarxien Temples, would have a negative effect on its revenues.

Moreover, by the end of next year the agency will take over two new sites; Fort St Elmo and Fort St Angelo which the minister said would bolster Heritage Malta’s income in the long run.

“Although these site will eventually boost the agency’s income, we must keep in mind that capital expenditure and investments beyond EU funding and recurrent expenditures.”

Another key project which Heritage Malta will undertake in the coming years is the migration of the National Arts Museum and the creation of a Contemporary Art Centre which is set to be established by 2018, when Valletta will officially become the European Cultural Capital.

He added that another factor which could affect Heritage Malta’s coffers was the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege of Malta which will be celebrated next year.

Yet, the agency was currently undergoing a cost-cutting exercise by introducing new technologies and fiscal systems at its sites.

In his concluding remarks, Bonnici said that the forthcoming events, such as V18, the CHOGM meeting and the EU presidency, would pose a “big challenge,” adding that although not all events were exclusively cultural ones, “they will undoubtedly leave their mark” on the country.

“I believe that we must increase cooperation between different entities to overcome these challenges and also involve other institutions, including local councils and educational bodies. The more these bodies work together, the stronger the cultural foundations will get and citizens will not only appreciate Malta’s cultural heritage but they will identify themselves with it.”

In his address to Parliament, opposition MP Francis Zammit Dimech said that although the PN would be voting against the money bill, as was customary in Parliamentary proceedings, “it does not mean that we do not appreciate the work being done by these agencies.”

But the former PN minister warned that Heritage Malta’s autonomy was under threat by “the interference of somebody at the Office of the Prime Minister who has a well-known interest in Heritage Malta.”