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Political cronyism and the arts

The Prime Minister’s appointment of veteran Gozitan politician Anton Refalo, who failed to make it to the Cabinet after the last election, to the chairmanship of Heritage Malta illustrates the very worst of the country’s crony political system. It also shows how little has changed despite promises on transparency in public appointments.

This appointment shows how little regard the political establishment has for the country’s cultural institutions. The new Heritage Malta chairman may be an aficionado of art collections but he is hardly experienced in the broader field of our multifaceted national heritage.

Many understandably argue that the government has failed to justify this appointment and merely used its power for political expediency as its support in Gozo, according to a MaltaToday survey, may be waning.

Heritage Malta has never had a politician at its helm. The qualities one expects for a person to occupy such a relevant post is one of in-depth cultural knowledge and experience as well as an ability to manage a small team of employees committed to safeguarding the islands’ vast cultural heritage.

This administration has promised to make Malta the best in Europe, presumably in the different areas that define the quality of our lives. We are certainly not getting any better in making sure our rich cultural heritage is entrusted in the hands of real professionals rather than politicians who may feel that the government owes them a prestigious post that gives them a high profile in society.

Dr Refalo’s appointment was not the only faux pas made by this administration. The selection of former Labour Party general secretary Jason Micallef as chairman of the Valletta 2018 has evidently damaged Malta’s unique opportunity to project itself in a good light as an essential cultural hub in Europe.

Mr Micallef seems to love controversy and the media spotlight that his behaviour and writings bring about. But his performance as chairman of what should have been a non-partisan effort to get the best PR mileage for Malta at a time when the country’s image in international circles is tarnished because of various political scandals leaves a lot to be desired.

Also, the appointment of Phyllis Muscat, a successful businesswoman specialising in the sale of cosmetic products, to head a newly-established contemporary art museum is further proof of how deep the country has sunk in the politics of patronage where merit is scorned and cronyism glorified.

Of course, Malta is not the only country that promotes political cronyism and nepotism that often give rise to corrupt practices.

Neither are such appointments the reserve of the present Labour administration, though the way the system works now may be unprecedented.

However, at least in this relatively small area of public administration, we could have shown that this tiny country can lead by example and can do much better than appoint cronies to promote and preserve its cultural heritage.

Political leaders so often forget they do not own the country and its vast cultural heritage. Yet, they are just stewards who have the grave responsibility of preserving and improving this heritage and pass it on to future generations in a better state than they found it.

Sadly, the broader picture is one of a political system that is still about perks, cronyism and scrambling for personal and political ambition.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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