Looking back at the past twelve months, my immediate thought is that we have managed to accomplish a packed agenda. The result of a group of people working as a team and with the common good in mind. As a Government, we started implementing our long-planned road map, as a Ministry I boast of having a great team in all the sectors in my portfolio.
The year is marked by internationally recognised achievements in the justice sector and marked achievements in the cultural sector, together with improvements in other sectors headed by my colleagues Deo Debattista and Silvio Parnis.
I start off with the brilliant year we had in the cultural sector, steered by Valletta’s outstanding year as the European Capital for Culture – Valletta 2018. During this year, we strengthened Malta on the International map for culture with the most intensive cultural calendar ever seen on these islands. Valletta 2018 had more than 400 cultural activities with the participation of local and international talent in the field. More than that, we saw the local communities participate heartily in all the activities organised. Through the Capital of Culture, we have been given the opportunity to generate considerable cultural, social and economic changes, which have led to a substantial increase in the engagement of people in the creative sector, both in terms of audience development and career opportunities.
We worked on one of the cultural sector’s priorities – that of making culture more accessible to all. Apart from the above-mentioned Valletta 2018, one must applaud all the initiatives taken by Heritage Malta to underline this priority. The highlight is obviously MUŻA – Malta’s National Art Museum which houses the country’s prized art collection. A museum that not only exhibits our collection, but also addresses the young generation’s need for a more modern approach to art and culture. MUŻA is also a fine example of how one can re-utilise old historic buildings and give them a new lease of life – safeguarding them for our future generations.
This leads me to the numerous restoration projects the Restoration Directorate has completed during this year. A project that has changed our Capital from a morbid and dull city to a city full to the brim with culture activities, enhanced economic activity and a city which is now worthy to be called a Capital City. Restoration projects were not concentrated only in Valletta but throughout our islands. In fact, the Restoration Directorate has restored historic sites ranging from buildings to street niches in about 70% of our Local Councils in a scheme addressed to our Local Governments.
Heritage Malta’s twoinitiatives-the Heritage Passport scheme and the Culture Pass – are two schemes which bring our historic sites and museums to the forefront for our young generation. The Culture Pass is one of the Government’s electoral promises and as promised, this initiative was broadened to include all kindergarten, primary and secondary school students. The primary aim of this initiative is to provide all students with the opportunity to attend a cultural activity at least once a year.
The Heritage Passport Scheme promotes a more inclusive sector, by which all schoolchildren can take two adults free of charge, on a visit to Heritage Malta’s historical sites and museums. This scheme was highly praised by the EU Commissioner for Education and Culture Tibor Navracsics.
This year also marks the concept launch of MICAS – the Malta Contemporary Art Space. Housed in the former dilapidated Ospizio site and the adjacent Ritirata in Floriana, currently undergoing restoration works, MICAS is intended to strengthen Malta’s cultural infrastructure by providing a platform for contemporary art and internationalisation. With its launch, Malta is about to take a great step forward and become a proactive player in the contemporary art world.
This year is also a year of “firsts”. The introduction of KorMalta by The Arts Council Malta, within the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, is an exciting project which sees the country having its own national choir. The need for the setting up of a national choir was felt for quite some time and with this project, Arts Council Malta will be filling this void, whilst also delivering an electoral manifesto promise by the Government for the setting up of a national choir.
Culture is not only the heritage sites dotting the islands. Culture is also our traditions. With this in mind, we have implemented several schemes to help our communities, which are keeping alive these traditions – most of them on a voluntary basis. Financial schemes that the local Band Clubs and the Fireworks enthusiasts are benefitting from.
Having mentioned the other side of our rich heritage – the intangible heritage – I have to name the setting up of a board tasked with implementing the national intangible cultural heritage policy. The We are honoured to say that our islands are bestowed with a priceless cultural heritage, which is appreciated by the public and also sought by many tourists. This government is truly committed towards a strategy that safeguards our intangible heritage, and to preserve and pass it on to our future generations.
The Culture Directorate is also working on a new cultural policy for the period 2020-2025.
The National Broadcasting Station, PBS also helped to make this year a great year in achievements. PBS’s role as national broadcasters was strengthened with numerous current affairs, educational, cultural and sport programmes with the intention of offering the Maltese society a better access to local and worldwide events. One has to mention this year’s main international sport event – the World Cup – which the PBS excelled in, by showing all games to the local viewers – free of charge.
During 2018 the justice sector went through numerous reforms aimed at bettering efficiency at our Law Courts but also strengthening our democracy and the rule of law.
The new Media Bill which gives unprecedented freedom to our country’s journalists, I believe, tops the list. The Media and Defamation Bill that came into immediate effect as from the 14th of May 2018, made criminal libels a thing of the past. The Bill puts Malta on the highest level of respect for freedom of expression by strengthening this freedom of expression in unprecedented levels. The Bill is also a testimony of the Maltese Government’s political maturity, which adopted the strengthening of the freedom of expression as one of its main goals. This Bill follows the vast reforms undertaken during the last legislature, which all contributed to the widening of the freedom of artistic expression.
On a European level, our justice system marked huge improvements and topped the list amongst all the EU states as the country with the best rate in solving civil, commercial and administrative cases.
Two milestones in this sector were the presentation of a letter to European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality VěraJourová by which Malta notified its intention to participate in the EPPO, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Malta recognises that the establishment of the EPPO is a major development for safeguarding the economic interests of the European Union and ensures that union funds are employed for the achievement of the social and economic purposes for which they are intended.
Another is the strengthening of the Asset Recovery Bureau, a measure that complements other measures taken to modernise the judiciary system on European and International levels.
The setting up of the Commercial Court was another achievement in the justice sector. This Government is committed to increase the efficiency and quality of the Maltese Courts and undeniably, the setting up of a section tasked with Company Law matter clearly crystallises this commitment in that it provides a more specialised and accessible judicial service to citizens running a business as well as companies in commercial disputes.
Numerous online services were introduced this year, making life easier for all those – professionals and citizens alike – making use of court services.
2018 was also a historic year in the justice sector, when for the first time ever we have 23 female judges compared to the 22 males.
On behalf of the Maltese Government, the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government sought advice from International Institutions, amongst them the Venice Commission, in preparation for the constitutional reforms, reforms which need the parliament’s two-thirds majority for their implementation.
The above was just a slight glimpse through the year. I conclude by mentioning achievements by the Parliamentary Secretariats within the Ministry.
The Parliamentary Secretariat for Local Government and Communities headed by Silvio Parnis was crucial in the formation of the Local Government Reform and the amalgamation of the formerly called Wardens in a Government Department under the administration of LESA – now known as Community Officers. The secretariat also organised several events to mark the 25th anniversary from the setting up of the Local Councils.
The Parliamentary Secretariat for Consumer Protection and Valletta 2018, headed by Deo Debattista saw the implementation of several measures, which strengthened the MCCAA and gave this Authority a new branding. Working hand in hand with the Medicines Authority, this secretariat announced price reductions on numerous medicines and medical devices. One must also mention the Cleansing Division, this year enhanced with a new maintenance division - and its sterling work for the upkeep of our islands.
Three days before we hail another year, 2019 – I augur the editor, staff and readers of the Malta Independent and all, to have a good ending and a great beginning, whilst I look forward to another year during which the work at the Ministry will continue on the past successes to further enhance all sectors in my portfolio.