Tiff with minister over Malta book council’s autonomy goes public on Facebook

National Book Council chairperson Mark Camilleri claims education ministry has frozen his budgets after his disagreement with Evarist Bartolo on giving the council more autonomy

Minister Evarist Bartolo with National Book Council chairman Mark Camilleri (left)
Minister Evarist Bartolo with National Book Council chairman Mark Camilleri (left)

The chairperson of Malta’s national book council, Mark Camilleri, has broken ranks with the education ministry with a Facebook post revealing an internal feud over a forthcoming national congress for writers.

Camilleri, chairperson since 2013, wrote of a disagreement with education minister Evarist Bartolo over the former’s proposal to grant the NBC greater autonomy by raising the subsidiary legislation governing it, to an act of parliament in its own right.

“Only an hour since our confrontation… his bureaucrats have frozen the NBC’s money and issued an order that states that procedures on NBC budgets have to be absorbed by the ministry,” Camilleri stated on Facebook.

In a first reaction, a ministry spokesperson denied that the ministry had frozen “any bank accounts of any entity. All requests for public funding go through the usual due process.”

Camilleri accused the ministry of having “flagrantly breached” the NBC’s autonomy which it has enjoyed for the last six years.

“The ministry’s bureaucrats have no idea how either private industry or the NBC and the book industry functions, and they want to turn the clock back 30 years to turn the NBC into some government department,” Camilleri said.

Camilleri has already announced a national congress for writers, during which he will collect stakeholders’ proposals for copyright laws as well as for a separate law for the National Book Council, so that it retains “autonomy and permanence”.

Any bill would still have to be presented to the Cabinet of ministers before it is tabled in the House, which is where Camilleri’s and Bartolo’s alleged disagreement might have arisen.

“It is important that all writers attend the national congress so that they can defend their fundamental and economic rights, and to ensure the NBC can grow as an autonomous entity, Camilleri said in his Facebook message, while firing off more missives at the education ministry.

“In such conditions my position would no longer be tenable because the consequences of these decisions will impact the NBC’s operations, even threaten work and the exports [of the book industry]… I assure our stakeholders that these bureaucrats are being dishonest [and] since the minister has no respect for the NBC and its decisions, he will have to show that respect to the congress.”

The NBC is presenting the Draft Writers’ Bill of Economic Rights guaranteeing the basic and minimum economic rights for writers and authors in Malta, the first step for the transposition of the EU's Copyright in the Digital Market Directive. 

Published authors are invited to vote on adoption of the Bill during the National Writers’ Congress, which will be held on 14 September at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, Floriana.

Authors are being called upon to recognise their economic rights, including the right to receive fair payment for their work, in a law that will be the first of its kind in Malta.

In a first reaction, a ministry spokesperson denied that the ministry had frozen “any bank accounts of any entity. All requests for public funding go through the usual due process.”

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