The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
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We cannot have Valletta iconic site undergoing restoration in January - V18 chairman

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 26 June 2017, 12:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

Chairperson of the Valletta 2018 Foundation Jason Micallef described his plans for the opening of the V18 celebrations during an Interview with Kevin Schembri Orland, while also discussing the current ongoing projects, and certain concerns he has about the situation in Valletta.

What’s the V18 opening going to be like?

While people think there will be one opening, the opening will actually be spread over four squares (Castille Square, Triton Square, St John’s Square and St George’s Square). All four major squares will have a 25 minute spectacular show. Spectators watching, for example, the opening at Triton square at 7 pm, would walk to Castille next and see the opening there, while others who were watching the Castille opening show would then walk to the opening at Triton Square. The opening shows will run from 7pm to midnight with different repeat shows in each square. The biggest opening will be held at the Triton Square, where we have an international collaboration with La FuradelsBaus. They will also participate in Notte Bianca this year.


Castille Square will see an animation as well as a show. A choir and 3D animation will be seen at St John’s Square. St George’s Square will focus on dance and everything will end with a concert in St George’s Square. Valletta has never seen such a grand opening.  All local communities are involved.

Republic Street will change its Christmas lights for the first time in many years, and they will be designed in a baroque style, in part sponsored by the Republic Street Business community. We will turn them on for the first time during the first week in December and eventually, their programming will change and become lights for the V18 opening. They are being designed in Italy.


What work still needs to be done for v18?

When I took over in 2013, we had five people working here and today we have over 40 (full-timers and part-timers). We then have another 6-man group led by Artistic Director Mario Philip Azzopardi who are working on the opening, the Valletta Pageant of the Seas (which will be held on 7 June 2018) an opera season and the closing ceremony. This group operates from another building.

In this building (the Exchange Buildings, Valletta) we handle the day-to-day running, research, data, and the cultural programme ongoing through collaboration with local councils. We have five full-time regional coordinators as points of reference between each regional committee who represent local councils. We also have an office in Gozo.

I am very happy by how things are progressing. By the end of September, the whole V18 programme will be in the hands of the people.  There will be a total of around 400 events around the islands, with roughly 250 of these events in Valletta.

What about the construction and regeneration projects?

I am making sure that the timeframes and deadlines of projects in Valletta are carried out. I am pleased to see that the old market will be the first to open. It is a PPP between the government, Valletta 2018 and the Arkadia Group. When running, it will create between 120 to 140 new jobs in Valletta. The market is expected to open its doors by the 2ndweek of October and cost between €8-10 million being paid by the private sector.

We have seen had substantial progress on the MUZA project up on Merchants Street, and we envisage that it will open its doors by May 2018. We are also close to concluding the Strait Street regeneration, and we recently installed 40 lanterns that will soon turn on.

The Valletta Design cluster (situated on the old abattoir), will be the last major V18 project to open (in October 2018).

Works on the Arcades have concluded, and so has most of the work on the façade of Palazzo Ferreria.

Progress on the Valletta ditch is being made, and it will be turned into a Maltese garden, with a recreational zone for youths where they will be able to hold small pop events. Valletta has a problem where teenagers just don’t have anywhere to go and tend to hang out in places like the middle of Republic Street which is creating a little tension. I believe this garden will be a hang-out spot, with wifi-systems, and space for gigs for 200-300 people, and will have amenities in place.


Are you concerned with the works at St John’s Co-Cathedral given the closeness to V-18?

Yes and my concerns are very genuine. We cannot have the most of iconic sites in Valletta with restoration and construction going on in 2018. I would have thought and wished that the works started much earlier than they did. I was one of the ones who had objected for the Foundation to have a crane in Merchants Street.

The Triton Square is a mess right now, will it conclude in time for 2018?

I am confident that the GHRC, responsible for that project, will conclude the works by 20 January 2018, where we will have one of the major official openings held. The problems there are is that excavations are sensitive. Everytime they dig they find some sort of foundation etc.  and that is why it takes time as some of the work has to be done by hand. Works have also occurred on the pump room.

You had a spat with the local council over the cleanliness in Valletta, how do you feel about it now?

Things have improved. Cleanliness is better thanks to different government authorities, especially thanks to Ramon Deguara from the Cleansing Directorate. Now Valletta has 10 people dedicated to cleaning Valletta - power washing the major squares etc. Am I satisfied? No, and this has nothing to do with government authorities. We cannot have three or four different private contractors coming in and out of Valletta collecting commercial refuse. It is unacceptable and it is not done. There are people dining in Valletta, with scammels passing behind them.


You and the mayor had a spat. Is it sorted now?

Well it wasn’t a spat, it was out of frustration. The Valletta local council is responsible for domestic waste collection and that has improved, we don’t have any problem with that. What we do have is a problem where Valletta commercial entities hire three-four different contractors. I feel the local council has the responsibility to impose by-laws so that a time be set, that be good for everyone, for rubbish to be picked up. It cannot be that, during times when Valletta is alive and kicking, rubbish from restaurants etc is picked up. I’m talking about 1pm,  6pm, 7pm, etc. This needs a collective effort. The Malta Tourism Authority needs to get into this and sort this mess. This is a complete mess and it is not acceptable.

This is not rocket science. What do they do in Bugibba, St Julian’s etc. They have one contract and rubbish is picked up at certain times.


How will V18 help regenerate the areas of Valletta where tourists would not go to visit?

For the first time V18 has a member of Cabinet representing the Foundation. Deo Debattista is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for V18. I have, for years, spoke of the importance of preparation and that we have a very successful 2018. God forbid 2018 passes and then everything done ends and shuts down. The legacy is crucial, and will be the biggest success of V18. Prior to the elections I sent my proposals to both parties. In the PL manifesto, they agreed that every three years Malta will have a local capital of culture, which is crucial so that we keep going with this mentality. It is important to continue regenerating areas, keeping in mind that in 2024 another interior mechanism will occur for internal candidates to be chosen for the European Capital Culture in 2030. This is a vision. V18 is a vehicle that needs to carry on. It’s a start.

The V18 Foundation will eventually turn, as part of continuity, into the first Valletta cultural agency. Naturally this requires a lot of thought and agreement with the Malta Arts Council. We already have agreement on principle as to how we will work with the employees being carried over into this agency with a few going into the Arts Council taking the experience they have gained.

Regeneration in Valletta won’t stop with 2018. Government promised a €40 million urban regeneration fund for the lower part of Valletta including the lower side of Fort St Elmo, Marsamxett, the MCC area etc. This will be the next regeneration for Valletta between 2019 and 2025. Through the Valletta Design Cluster, where we started restoring the most dilapidated building in Valletta, we already started seeing private investment through accommodation and eateries. So that is social regeneration. 2018 is only the beginning.


Have you, as is standard procedure, handed in your resignation since there was an election, and has it been decided that you will be kept on?

There is procedure. Every Board of Governors, and Board of Directors and because mine was a political appointment rubberstamped through the minister of culture I had to tend my resignation on the eve of the election just like any other chairman of any other public entity. The situation is the same as the rest of the Chairs. So basically we are waiting for our re-appointment.

Would you want to stay on?

For the sake of continuity yes. It would be madness if we had to change the Chair or the leadership of the foundation now that we are on the eve of the official opening on 20 January 2018.

There was some controversy surrounding Mario Philip Azzopardi in terms of things he has said in the past. Sean Buhagiar had resigned due to a situation with him and there have been political questions about him as well. Why was he kept on and was it the right move?

Mario Phillip Azzopardi was chosen on his competence and experience. He is a huge local talent where artistic direction is concerned. He saw huge success abroad and was chosen and kept on his competences. I cannot mention any artist who hasn’t been caught in any controversy when speaking their mind. I am a strong believer in freedom of speech. Did I like everything he said ? No.  Did I like everything he said that could have been controversial? No. On the one hand you have the defence of freedom of speech and on the other you have the controversy of artists where many times they shoot from the hip and sometimes Azzopardi does that. I tell him this, he knows it but I think it is one of his defects. He has, however, many qualities.

Do you see a conflict of interest in you being the Chairman of V18 given that you are ONE Chairman?

No, there was never any thought that there would be a conflict of interest between myself chairing and running a TV and radio station and the V18 Foundation, which are two separate things.  More than this, I have proven myself. I have widespread support from everyone which I appreciate and worked hard for.

You’ve also criticised PBS, and have had a feud with Anton Attard. Should you have done this because you are Chairman of V18?

God forbid being chairman stops me from expressing my concerns and opinions on social media or in interviews. I believe in tolerance and freedom of speech. God forbid I became mute because I am chairman of V18. While doing this I was also criticising government on a number of things in Valletta that were eventually fixed. It was I who told government not to have the Monti in Ordinance Street. That is the person I am.


This newsroom asked for statistics as to how much V18 is expected to cost in total and how many tourists it is projected to attract, and was told the statistics would be sent through an email. The following was sent by the V18 Foundation: 

"The total income for the Valletta 2018 Foundation is expected to amount to circa €46 million with 95% of the amount forthcoming from the public sector. 2% of the total income is being sought from the private sector through sponsorships and income generated from ticketing revenue, while 3% of the total income will be received through the Melina Mercouri Prize.  With regard to tourism, the projection is a 5% to 7% increase over the coming months."





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