Earlier this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an information note on its plans for a council for Maltese living abroad. In a nutshell, the ministry proposed a law setting up the council, to be chaired by the minister and with members from Malta and abroad, with the function being to advise the minister on matters concerning Maltese living abroad. The law would also make provision for the creation of a cultural institute.
When the note was issued the Federation of Maltese Living Abroad (FMLA) broadly welcomed the proposal. The period of consultation announced in the note allowed for further consideration of the ministry’s text and for specific suggestions to be made which I will go over.
The FMLA’s first set of comments concerns the appointment of the council members from abroad. The ministry is proposing that these members are appointed by the Prime Minister after consulting, first federations, then community councils and, finally, associations.
The situation on the ground is far from being as structured as the ministry’s consultation method makes it out to be. For example, there are no general, nationwide federations of associations for Maltese. There are active individual associations which have no affiliations with state-, region- or province-based community councils. And we’re not sure where the ministry’s proposal leaves the FMLA itself.
The FMLA is therefore proposing two things. First, that the Bill itself either lists or provides for the creation of a register of associations of Maltese abroad. Their being registered as not-for-profit in the jurisdictions where they are active could be considered as their bona fides. Second, we think that these associations are responsible enough to be trusted with electing themselves the right people to represent them.
Neither concept is alien to Maltese law. The Maltese Language Act and Sports Act list or provide for the registration of associations who have an interest and for these associations to elect members to the Maltese Language Council and the Sports Council, respectively.
Related to this concern is the fact that, apart from this role in members’ appointment, the note makes no other mention of associations of Maltese abroad. These associations are an important resource, performing valuable work on the ground and having the potential to become strategic partners. For this reason the FMLA suggested that support and recognition for these associations’ work be listed in the specific functions of the council.
FMLA’s second set of comments concerns the appointment of Malta-based members. The paper proposed that these would be appointed by the Prime Minister after consulting the Leader of the Opposition. Once more, we feel that the people directly concerned – Maltese living abroad – should be afforded more trust in making the right choices. The right to be consulted should belong to the council itself.
In order for this to work in practice, the council could be first established with overseas members only and, after these members have been given some time to settle in, they will be consulted on whom to appoint as a Malta-based member.
We’d also like to see more safeguards in ensuring the council stays predominantly “for Maltese living abroad”.
The ministry has proposed that the number of Malta-based members should always be less than that of the overseas members. We do not think this goes far enough and have proposed having these persons as non-voting members or having a quorum based only on the number of overseas members.
Finally, regarding the Cultural Institute, while welcoming the idea we find it somewhat odd that the ministry should want to establish it through this Bill.
Certainly, retaining and strengthening cultural links with the diaspora would be an important function of a cultural institute, but hardly its only one. We would also want to avoid the impression that the operations of the council of Maltese abroad would deal exclusively or primarily with cultural matters.
As FMLA we’d welcome the publication of the Bill and look forward to its being enacted. Creating the council through legislation is the way of ensuring that it would not run the risk of ceasing to exist every time a Minister of Foreign Affairs leaves office.
Il-proposti tal-assocjazzjoni jinstabu hawn.