Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Culture Parliamentary Secretary José Herrera are defending the controversial appointment of former Labour general secretary Jason Micallef to the V-18 Foundation.

He could have the most amazing management skills but what is his background in culture?

They said Mr Micallef would put his managerial skills to good use and do a good job when Malta became European Capital of Culture in 2018.

“I believe Jason Micallef will do a good job,” Dr Muscat said at the end of a conference on tourism management, where former tourism minister Mario de Marco expressed concern about the appointment.

Asked why the Government felt the need to replace architect David Felice, the Prime Minister replied with a question: “Why not?”

Dr Herrera said “the Government has confidence in him” and fended off criticism that it was a partisan appointment, saying this was “just because he is Labour-leaning”.

“Every appointment of Labour-leaning people is being criticised and depicted as partisan. When the Nationalist Party was in government and appointed PN-leaning people to the boards, did we say those were partisan too?” he asked.

“I accept criticism because not everyone agrees with every appointment but this Government has been appointing people with mixed political beliefs to its boards because we believe they have a lot to contribute,” Dr Herrera said.

The decision prompted a negative reaction on social media, including an online petition urging the Government to reconsider.

Dr Muscat and Dr Herrera both stressed that Mr Felice will remain active in the foundation.

“We will be moving forward to the next phase. There were already plans indicating the way forward for this organisation, even through the recruitment of a chief executive. This [step] is an evolution of that idea,” he added.

Dr Herrera said Mr Felice will have a “powerful position” within V-18. “We have not chopped his head off. He is an asset in the culture scene and once we announce his role you’ll understand. There was no backstabbing.

“We discussed it with him and want him to remain on board,” he said.

Dr Muscat said he was “comforted” because there was a good team at V-18, adding Mr Micallef’s audiovisual experience would complement Mr Felice’s expertise. “They will make a good couple.”

Dr Muscat said Mr Micallef would have to resign as chairman of One Productions, Labour’s media arm, when he officially takes up the V-18 role on a full-time basis later this month.

Mr Micallef’s appointment was criticised by the PN, which said it was the worst advertisement for the capital city.

Doubts were also raised by several people involved in the culture scene, who when contacted yesterday questioned Mr Micallef’s credentials for such a post.

The artists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had been involved in the arts for a number of years and had not come across his work.

They had numerous questions to ask about the appointment, among them whether Mr Micallef had ever dealt with organising such a large-scale festival; whether he had attended capital cities of culture before; and what contribution he had made, even as a spectator, to culture.

“He could have the most amazing management skills but what is his background in culture?

“This is not something you can learn on the job, it’s too important for us and for the country,” one artist said.

Other people involved in culture said they opted to take a wait-and-see approach because they knew very little of Mr Micallef.

“He could decide to be a hands-on chairman and dictate, or he can take on a more ceremonial role and leave it up to us and the artistic directors to get things done,” one said.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” another added.

Efforts to contact Mr Micallef were unsuccessful.

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