Malta/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

See also chapter 3.2 "Overall description of the system".

The main heritage issues addressed in the late 1990s were related to the difficulties encountered in the conservation and protection of Malta's vast number of sites and other historically valuable buildings, even from acts of vandalism. The country has no less than 2 025 protected cultural and archaeological sites, including a number of megalithic temples declared as world heritage. Heritage policies, since 2000, have laid emphasis on the importance of providing an exhaustive digitalised inventory of Malta's numerous assets in this respect.

A vociferous national debate concerns tourism, an extremely important industry which, in 2005-6 has shown evidence of decline. The decision, in 2006, to introduce low-cost airlines gave rise to debate on whether Malta should continue to receive mass tourists or whether it should diversify the market to cater for niche (cultural) tourists. It appears that Malta needs both categories, but the case for cultural tourism offers immense possibilities for the lean months between October and April, considering Malta's mild climate during that period.

Malta's heritage is always at the top of the country's cultural agenda. The Heritage Act of 2001 split the state-run Museums Department into two structures dealing with regulation on the one hand and operations on the other. The Superintendent for cultural heritage assumes responsibility for regulation while, Heritage Malta operates state-owned cultural sites.

The latest yearly report of Heritage Malta (2012) states that Heritage Malta conducted extensive programmes for the public, with no less than 180 different cultural events, including exhibitions, heritage trails, lectures, seminars, educational programmes and the increasingly popular open days.

In terms of major projects Heritage Malta has concentrated on structural projects co-financed by the EU. Foremost among these was the ERDF archaeological  conservation project at Mnajdra and Haga Qim Temples, Ggantija Temples, St Paul's Catacombs and Tarxien Temples, the Ghajn Tuffieha Roman Baths and Ta' Bistra Catacombs. Works at Fort St Angelo and Fort St. Elmo are in the advanced stages of completion. Work on the relocation of the National Museum of Fine Arts to a more centrally located "Auberge" has commenced and is expected to be a major deliverable of Valletta 2018. The relocation of the museum was initially stalled due to political interference however a strong media campaign and a petition managed to secure the development of the project.

Private cultural heritage foundations such as Fondazzjoni Patrimonju and Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna are also assisting in the restoration of heritage sites and curating exhibitions of historical and artistic importance following the governmental policy to transfer a number of neglected properties to such organisations. In 2014, Heritage Malta, the Farsons Foundation and Simonds Farsons Cisk, Malta's leading beverage company and brewer have agreed to work closely in the setting up and operation of a Farsons Visitors' Centre. A three-year memorandum of understanding provides for the planning and design stages of the visitor's centre, guidance on the collection, conservation and presentation of exhibits.

The National Cultural Policy states that a forward-looking vision for the heritage sector is needed in order to ensure the adoption of the latest techniques and the most updated knowledge in heritage conservation, while providing a fresh outlook on the past which appeals to all sections of the population, especially children and young people, as well as to international visitors to the Islands. An inventory which catalogues the heritage assets of the country is required for the facilitation of work of scholars, policy-makers and individual members of society. The fundamental cultural, historical and social significance of Malta's intangible heritage, including crafts and gastronomy should be valorised by fostering it within a supportive framework which remains sensitive towards its fragility as well as to its cultural malleability and adaptability. The framework shall also take into account how this intangible heritage has evolved and can still evolve, and how it can reinvent itself. Furthermore, government is committed to continuing its investment in the conservation and management structures of Malta's patrimony. Regulatory structures and technical requirements aimed at fulfilling the obligations of monitoring and enforcing heritage legislation shall be provided with continuous support. Operational structures managing museums and heritage sites are to provide appropriate interpretation and ancillary facilities, centred on the core historical dimension of the asset.

Interpretation should be historically sensitive, but should also take into account 21st century visions for and expectations of presentation and appreciation of heritage. Special attention to the value of these sites in sustaining a dynamic and open discussion on aspects of a historically-rooted national identity shall be given. Particular attention shall be paid to visitor centre layout with the aim of making people's visits more appealing and rewarding. The strength of cultural tourism in Malta has provided our heritage sites with an international audience, whose needs must be catered for. However, this should not detract from the continuous importance these sites have for Maltese people and their identity. It is recognised that the conservation of heritage assets is a long-term process which entails the coordination of financial aspects, education and training. Training in heritage conservation and management are important elements for a sector which must constantly balance the conservation needs of sensitive artefacts and sites with the pressures of a demanding national and international audience.

The National Cultural Policy recognises that the function of museums goes beyond that of a tourist attraction; they are essentially a gateway to past ways of life of Malta's people, which should be physically and intellectually accessible to today's public. Museums should diminish the borders of time and space and offer opportunities to individuals to explore each exhibit in a fascinating manner. It is therefore understood that the word "museums" should not be solely synonymous with depositories of the past. The Policy aims at encouraging the exploration of the different and stimulating ways in which museums can become more appealing to the public. It is committed to investing further in order to facilitate contemporary forms of exhibiting which encourage an active involvement of individuals through technology, innovation and imagination.

In November 2014, Deloitte Malta, under the auspices of the Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Dr Owen Bonnici, organised a seminar during which existing and proposed tax incentives relating to donations and endowments made to the Cultural Heritage Fund, heritage NGOs, and research entities were discussed. The debate focused on the recent call for further public-private partnerships for investments in cultural infrastructure and heritage. Government is commitment to taking a leading role in facilitating current work practices, research future possibilities and to entice new ventures concerning Cultural Heritage. The law regulating Cultural Heritage that was set up to make provision in place of the Antiquities (Protection) Act Cap. 54 for the supervision, conservation and management of cultural heritage in Malta is set to be amended in 2015.

The Cultural Heritage Fund was originally set up to function as a financial support mechanism with a vision to invest in areas such as research, conservation or restoration of the cultural heritage, but has been dormant for the past 12 years. Apart from the direct injection by the central administration, the Minister explained that this was an area in which there was potential for the private sector and private individuals to get involved.

The tax incentives currently available under the National Heritage Donations Rules are intended to promote donations ultimately intended for research, conservation or restoration, education or the exhibition of cultural heritage. Tax deductions are applicable for qualifying donations made to The Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, Heritage Malta, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti or other qualifying non-Government cultural heritage organisations. Additional incentives are being proposed to further promote the donation of funds by businesses and private individuals to ensure the protection and accessibility of Malta's cultural heritage.

The potential of public-private partnerships for the development of cultural projects and urban regeneration in view of Valletta 2018 is actively being promoted by Government. In 2013, government issued three calls for expressions of interest related to the regeneration of Valletta, including the drafting of a masterplan for Valletta, the regeneration of Strait Street and the regeneration of the old market. Government policy is geared towards giving life to Valletta through the creation of projects with government and private investment or a mixture of both.

Specific Measures:

  • tax deduction on donations to heritage organisations; and
  • tax rebate on restoration (2012).

See chapter 5.1.5 for more information on the above measures.


Chapter published: 12-08-2015


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