The appointment of Norma Saliba as CEO of a new entity called the Centre for the Maltese Language was transparently done to accommodate a loyalist. As many others, I wrote about this recently.

It’s indeed a corrupt country that sets up a government entity just to create a job for a crony. But that’s not all. The corrupt people running the country are also grotesquely incompetent. The law they wrote to set up the organisation that is employing Norma Saliba is a complete mess and likely invalid. Consequently, the job given to Norma Saliba is likely unlawful as well.

The legal notice setting up the “Centre for the Maltese Language” was published Friday as Legal Notice 201 of 2023. The notice is headed “Centre for the Maltese Language (Establishment) Regulations, 2023”.

The preamble of the regulations establishes what in the law gives the minister, Owen Bonnici, the power to issue these  regulations. Because, you see, only Parliament can write laws and those laws can in and of themselves confer to ministers the power to publish regulations within the parameters set in the law.

OK, the premise says that these regulations are made by the minister “in exercise of the powers conferred (on him) by article 24 of the Cultural Heritage Act”. Let’s see it. Article 24 of the Cultural Heritage Act says that “all estimates … estimates approved by (Parliament) shall… be published in the Gazette.” In other words, there are no powers conferred on the minister by this article to issue these or any other regulations.

Let’s for the sake of argument say that this is a genuine mistake due to some haggard civil servant, impatient to go for his Santa Marija break, doing a sloppy copy and paste job because of a last-minute phone order by his minister. Let’s be helpful and assume that the regulations are meant to refer to the Maltese Language Act rather than the Cultural Heritage Act. Because, sure enough, article 24 of the former does give the minister limited powers to issue regulations.

He can’t issue regulations about anything, you see. There’s a short list of things the minister can regulate, none of which include the setting up of a new entity. The minister can amend the schedules in the law (not relevant to this context). The minister can regulate “administrative and organisational procedures to be followed by the Council, by its organs and by the Executive Director,” which is not to say he can set up a new organ but merely to regulate the procedures of organs that are established by the main law. And the minister can regulate the money spent and earned by the Council and how internal elections within it are held.

Now there’s one more topic the minister has the power to issue regulations on: to “regulate any  matter  concerning  the  officers  and employees  of  the  Council” which might sound like it is relevant to what the minister has done in the case of Norma Saliba except that you need to finish reading that clause which says “and  which  is  not  already specifically regulated by this Act.”

The fact is what the minister has done is already specifically regulation by the main law and therefore it was unlawful for him to do it again.

I’ll explain how. Article 12 of the Maltese Language Act says that “the administration of the affairs of the Council and of its activities shall be the responsibility of the Council itself so however that… the executive administration of the Council and of its organs, their administration and organisation and the administrative control of their officers and employees, shall be the responsibility of the Executive Director who shall also have such other powers which may from time to time be delegated to him by the Council.”

The Executive Director is someone set up by the principal law. But now we have a new CEO appointed by the minister who has been given the job that the law says only the Council can recruit for.

There’s one more. Article 24 of the Maltese Language Act says that the minister can only issue regulations “after consultation with the Council.” We know no such consultation has happened because Olvin Vella who chairs the Council of the Maltese Language candidly told the press that he first read the regulations after they were published. The Council has in the past told the minister he should do something about the fact that they had no administrative resources. But that’s not consultation. That’s a request. A consultation would require them to at least see the draft regulations before they are published and allowed to say what they think about it.

Had they seen a draft of the regulations, the Council could have pointed out to the minister that he was quoting the wrong law, he was exceeding the powers that arise from the right law, and he was usurping their authority to hire whomever they thought competent to do the job not be lumped by someone the minister owed a favour to. The Council could have told the minister that what he needed to do was get them a bit of a bigger budget to employ the people they needed, not set up a new entity from scratch to duplicate what they were already doing.

It’s bad enough to have corrupt ministers. Corrupt idiotic ministers is the worst possible deal.

The only way this mess of a set of regulations can be rescinded is if Parliament resolves to strike it down. Good luck with that.