The Malta Independent 20 February 2019, Wednesday

The Cultural Heritage (Amendment) Bill

Owen Bonnici Friday, 18 January 2019, 08:40 Last update: about 2 months ago

This week parliament started debating the Cultural Heritage (Amendment) Bill – the objects and reasons of the bill being to better regulate the conservation-restoration profession and other cultural service providers and to provide with respect to underwater cultural heritage. The need to emend the 2002 law had been felt since 2014.

Permit me to start by giving a very brief background to the 2002 Act. The aim of this Act was to better the 1925 Antiques Protection Act. The result of this new (2002) Act was a major change in the structure of the entities that regulated cultural heritage, to reflect the modern realities of that period in time. Maybe the most notable change brought about by this act was that the Museums Department was dissolved but four new entities were set up instead: The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, Heritage Malta, the Restoration Directorate and the Committee of Guarantee (Cultural Heritage Act).

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The result of this act was a success and I can say that this was also a milestone in this sector for our country. We can look back at the past 16 years and see tangible results. However, as I always say, one should not sit and enjoy success when things could be enhanced. That is what the Cultural Heritage (Amendment) Bill provides for.

We are now discussing in parliament amendments to this Act, amendments to enhance it, and upgrade it to fit contemporary needs, mostly changes to cater for the modern society. These include the operational aspect to strengthen changes brought about by new laws and to give more relevance to our country’s Cultural Heritage.

It is pertinent to note that we have been working on these amendments for the last four years, with public consultations being made across the boards and the results of which were again discussed during the Cultural Heritage Forum organised our my ministry.

The bill being debated in parliament is the fruit of all these discussions, reflecting today’s realities in this field but also the challenges being faced due to the local environment and other international realities.

I am sure that the amendment that stands out is that concerning the regularisation of warrants for operators in restoration and conservation.

Although the 2002 Act provides for the official issuance of warrants to conservators and restorers, technical faults prevented the appointment of the Board responsible to issue said warrants.  The proposed amendment caters to right this wrong.

I add that most of the amendments being proposed are intended to provide a higher standard in the conservation and restoration profession. This will lead to the professional safeguarding of this sector of our Cultural Heritage.

Another important change in this act is the inclusion of underwater cultural heritage, which the 2002 act did not specifically provide for. Amendments put forward include the detailing of responsibilities to various institutions and entities. These include the need of reporting any underwater finds; the issuing of permits by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage for the exploration and recovery of wrecks; the SCH will be entrusted to establish protection zones with a specific emphasis on the protection of underwater cultural heritage and the need of having permits for recovering, conserving and exhibiting our culture which to date is hidden underwater.

The amendments also provide for a clearer distinction between the SCH and Heritage Malta, brought about by the common mistake of confusing the responsibilities of these two entities by the public. These amendments will see that Heritage Malta is the entity which should be consulted on conservation and restoration issues.

Heritage Malta will be given the mandate to give advice to the Government and other Institutions about the best practise in conserving the National Collection.

A National register will also be set up for all entities and NGOs that operate in the Cultural Heritage sector, which will be a reference for services which can be directed to the entities registered.

The amendments also include provisions so that the regulator and the operative aspect can work in a better environment.

I have always said that this sector is an important one not only for our country, but also for all of us. It is the sector that unites us all – being the sector that defines who we are. Striving to enhance all that pertains to it is of the utmost importance.

The amendments to the existing act are meant to safeguard our rich Cultural Heritage.

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On Wednesday, the Prime Minister tweeted that “according to IMF news review, current policies have made Malta’s economic growth one of the strongest in Europe with rapid convergence towards EU income average.”

This is another certificate to our economic policies, which we are implementing, and which are giving these excellent results in this sector, to the benefit of all.

Having said this, it is a pity that the party in Opposition is distorting the facts and results commended by international entities. Constructive criticism is always welcome, however destructive criticism and statements based on untruths and distortion necessitates clarifications.

One of the main criticism of the disoriented Nationalist Party in Opposition is that this Government did not have and does not have a plan for this sector and that the Government has not really made any advance on the economic situation since taking over the administration of this country in 2013.

During the last legislature before the change in Government, economic growth had decreased by approximately half of the average growth of the previous years. During the past five years, economic growth has tripled. GDP per capita as at 2017 stood at 96% of the EU average, compared to the 83% in 2012.

Such a change does not come about without a plan! This Government has strived and continues to strive to better the situation for families and businesses. A case in point, just to mention just one example, is the fuel, water and electricity prices that used to be double those in other EU countries, but which have been reduced far more than reductions in the EU. Inflation in Malta is lower than that in the EU, the total opposite of what used to happen before 2013.

This Government’s plan in the sector has brought about an excellent climate for investment, followed by a situation where we have an all-time low in unemployment. As in all sectors, the next move is to create the necessary infrastructure for a better economy for our future generations.

One of the comments coming from the Opposition that I find thoroughly absurd is that improvements in this sector, the positive results registered are all coming about from sectors introduced during the Nationalist legislatures. This statement is totally out of place, as it is definitely not the case. Economic acceleration is also the result of the many measures implemented by this Government.

We have seen the implementation of measures that eased the burden of businesses, and the introduction of business-friendly measures. Take the hospitality sector – this sector saw a four-fold increase in activity when compared to the situation pre-2013.

The plans and policies brought about by the change in Government also saw foreign investment in Malta increase by a good 32%.

One final comment on this subject on the nauseating statement by the Opposition that only the few are benefitting from this economic growth. This statement has been shot down by the people that matter – the Maltese families. The European Commission’s latest survey shows that 95% of those interviewed said that our economy is doing well. It is good to remind all that a similar 2012 survey showed that half of those interviewed stated that our country’s economy left much to be desired.

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