Malta’s national body for culture and the arts, Arts Council Malta, has recently come under scrutiny after a damning report was published by the National Audit Office. The report claims, among many other things, that the council has not prepared any financial statements for the past two years.
The council was allocated roughly €9.2 million from the state budget, with the aim that it is used to fund, support and promote cultural events and initiatives in Malta. The report claimed that the council had not issued financial statements for the years 2016 and 2017, and that there was clear evidence of weak credit control within the organisation. It also pointed out that the council had a total outstanding debt of €325,586 as of June 2018.
The report noted that the ACM board was not following lawful regulation that claims they need to meet every two months, instead meeting only three times in the past two years. The Arts Council’s reply was that these delays were caused by staff shortage and furthered by the additional workload that accompanied the cultural programme for the 2017 EU Council presidency.
Other than these issues in financial control and regulation, the report mentioned that in the past year, Arts Council Malta has turned to the use of direct orders up to 224 times, with a total value of €2.1 million. The NAO states that the use of direct orders should be limited only to exceptional circumstances. It is relevant to note, however, that the use of direct orders in an artistic setting is often more useful than the issuing of public tenders. In fact, sometimes you cannot issue a tender if the service you are seeking is that of a specific artist. If you are looking to hire a specific singer, or visual artist, then that payment can only be made through a direct order. So perhaps a look into the public regulations within the ministry for finance is in need here.
The NAO noted that there has been a rapid growth in the workload for the Arts Council, that was not reflected in the number of employees.
“Though in no circumstance the Council is seeking to justify any reporting non-compliance, it is being humbly pointed out that as from 2013 onwards, ACM has experienced a period of accelerated growth and a major restructuring. Funding, projects, business units and events have increased materially. However, such increases were not reflected in the finance human resource complement.”
Within the past few years, ACM has seen the introduction of several new Public Cultural Organisations (PCOs) that run under its wings. These PCOs include ŻfinMalta, Teatru Malta, Festivals Malta, and most recently, KorMalta. However, the number of employees has not been increased to match the increase in sectors. Indeed, it has lessened. Some people have raised the issue that, in being a government organisation, there are a number of political appointees within the Arts Council that may not be fully qualified for the position they fulfil.