In an interview on the Maltese program on SBS Radio broadcast today, Foreign Minister Dr George Vella confirmed that there was a misunderstanding when the request for resignation was made last week to members of the Council for Maltese Living Abroad. Dr Vella said that they were appointed according to law for three years and their appointment was not a political one. The members were selected from Maltese communities around the world and they were also made by the former government with the consensus of the then Labour opposition.
Last week the Government had requested the members of the Council for Maltese Living Abroad to submit their resignation. The Secretary of the Council, Ms Doris Zammit, had informed the members by email that this request was being made pursuant to the issuing of a circular requiring members of all boards to resign without affecting the boards’ continued operation, until the relevant Minister makes a decision on their composition. This was in line with usual practice of reviewing political appointments when there is a change of government.
However, Minister Vella clarified that someone, probably by oversight, requested the resignation of the Council members. He said that the Office of the Prime Minister has sought the advice of the Attorney General’s Office, on the basis of that advice he has recommended that the request for resignations be withdrawn so that the members will continue to serve on the Council for their 3-year term of appointment.
Asked whether the Labour government has different priorities as far as the Maltese living abroad are concerned, Minister Vella said that, when he had his first meeting with the ambassadors to give them a briefing on how the government intends to proceed in foreign affairs, he stressed that there will be continuity with the foreign policy of the previous government. He said that the Labour government wants to build on what had been done by the previous government, bearing in mind that most of this had been done with consensus with the Labour opposition, now in government.
As regards the Maltese living abroad, the Minister said that he is proud that he had been instrumental early in the piece, as can be witnessed by Mr Victor Borg, when the Minister had suggested to him in the late 90s that a conference on a large scale should be organised for the start of the new millennium. Dr Vella said that conferences took place in 2000 and 2010, and as most of what was agreed at the 2000 convention was not acted upon during the period between the two conventions, lately there has been a push for things to happen. There has been a very strong consensus between the former government and the then opposition, which led to the passing of the legislation setting up the Council for Maltese Living Abroad with unanimous support in parliament.
Minister Vella said that the functions of the Council are many. While the way the Council was designed cannot be said to be the most ideal because to find a way that ensures proportional representation of all Maltese abroad is difficult, the Maltese in Australia are well represented on the Council in terms of both numbers and the people representing them.
Minister Vella said that there will be no changes as far as the Council for Maltese Living Abroad is concerned. He has just had a briefing by the Council’s Secretary on the Council’s work so far. He said that several proposals and suggestions have been made, giving a sense that there is life in the Council. Dr Vella said that this Council is here to stay and has its own importance. Certain things can be improved and he expects that Council members will react by providing their feedback and suggestions.
Dr Vella referred to the issue of establishing a Maltese Cultural Institute, which will have a presence around the world. There are several ideas coming in about this Institute and we need to find a way on how it would work and be funded.
Minister Vella said that the objective is to send a message to the Maltese diaspora around the world that they are still “Maltese like us” and have a close affinity of their country of origin. The Maltese living in Malta are constantly thinking of them and want them to be involved when the government makes several decisions that may directly or indirectly affect them. This is the idea behind the establishment of the Council. He said that he will be doing his best to meet the expectations that were set when the Council was established.