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Full trust in Olvin Vella, says language council over Saliba impasse

The members of the National Council for the Maltese Language have expressed full confidence in their president, Dr Olvin Vella, who entered the eye of a storm over a ‘consultation’ he approved of that dealt with the surprise appointment of former PBS editor Norma Saliba, as CEO of the Council’s new Centre for the Maltese Language.

Members of the Council said Vella had worked incessantly in favour of the Maltese language as his aspiration and his only agenda.

The Council has opposed the unilateral appointment of Saliba, who recently resigned her post at PBS over disagreements with top brass, at the helm of the newly-established Centre.

The arts ministry, which pushed the appointment, claims it sought consultation with Vella on Saliba’s appointment when minister Owen Bonnici exchanged a series of WhatsApp messages and telephone conversations with Vella.

The Council however said that Vella “became aware too late of the manipulations and the seriousness of the situation” and that he had also offered his resignation. “We unanimously disagreed with him and refused to accept his resignation because we realised that he had unwittingly fallen into a trap that was set for him; none of us ever asked the President to resign, as has been falsely claimed by some – that claim was a fabrication that appeared in the media to try and split and weaken the Council,” the members said in a statement.

The Council said that in protest against the imposition of an “illegal and so-called” Centre for the Maltese Language, it had voted freely from the very beginning wth Vella. “We deplore the fact that those who are qualified and have worked all their lives with a spirit of dedication and without remuneration in favour of our language are being sidelined and treated in the worst possible manner in preference to persons who are unqualified in the subject, for reasons other than the good of the Maltese language.”

In a judicial protest filed last week by Maltese academic Mark Amaira against Culture Minister Owen Bonnici, the Centre for the Maltese Language, and the National Council for the Maltese Language, Amaira is objecting to Saliba’s appointment due to her lack of relevant academic qualifications.

The Council has now also filed its own judicial protest claiming the creation of the Centre for Maltese Language was illegal because no consultation took place.

The government has blamed Vella himself, because it appears he had communicated properly with the Council about the exchanges that took place with Bonnici.

The government said it is untrue that the legal notice which set up the Centre for the Maltese Language had been published without prior consultation with the Council for the Maltese Language. But the communication took place both over the phone and in writing, with the government attaching a screenshot of the last WhatsApp conversation as proof of the latter.

The screenshot shows a message from the Minister’s communications coordinator to the Council’s president Olvin Vella, containing the text of a draft press release announcing the launch of the new centre and Saliba's appointment, asking Vella whether it was ok to proceed (“nista mmexxi?”). Twelve minutes later, Vella replied with “yes of course” (iva mela).

The ministry claims it was Vella’s responsibility to circulate the Ministry’s draft of the legal notice to the other 15 members, argued the respondents. “This means that it was not a shortcoming by the respondents, but solely that of the Council president,” reads the counter-protest, going on to argued that “it’s not right that the minister gets the blame for this lack of communication between the president and the members of the council.”