11 - 17 April 2001

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Maltese crafts industry endangered
- Ta Qali artisans, eager to renovate, enraged over authorities' laid back approach

The plight of Maltese handicrafts appears as though it is has been overlooked by the authorities, what with their lackadaisical approach toward upgrading the Ta Qali Crafts Village.

To make matters worse, Maltese crafts are subject to the same taxation rate as similar goods that are mass produced in low production cost locations such as Taiwan and China.

Perhaps the fact that fewer Maltese now venture to the Crafts Village at Ta Qali, the national showcase for Maltese artisan crafts, has led to the authorities' complacency in renovating, and in some cases, simply issuing permits for works at the beleaguered site.

Whatever the case might be, the fact remains that the Crafts Village resembles more a series of wartime bomb shelters that have recently taken a particularly brutal beating, than a venue advertised of every tourist brochure as a prime attraction. In fact, some 15 tourist-filled coaches visit the crafts village every day.

It is somewhat ironic that, for the most part, the artisans are seeking to renovate the structures themselves, but have been denied permission – in some cases for over three years.

However, the decrepit state of the Crafts Village is not the only deterrent to the local crafts trade and many believe that it is no longer worth producing local crafts, as there is no protection on local goods and as they are taxed at the same rate as mass produced imported goods.

For its part, the government does intend on encouraging traditional Maltese crafts, which are increasingly under threat from imports.

Edwin Vassallo from the Economic Services Ministry, commented in January 2000, "The government wants to boost local handicrafts and the setting up of a council for the protection of Maltese crafts will ensure their protection."
Potterware, winner of the Award for Achievement in Industry 1999, has been long seeking permission to renovate its 80-foot shop – a wait that has lasted the better part of three years while the government decides how to best tackle the problem at Ta Qali.

Wishing to make its retail outlet more traditional in style, as best suites the locality, and to dig out a basement for a storage area, the company simply wants to carry out the renovation out its own pocket.

One jeweller in the vicinity, another of the area's craftsmen wanting to modernise his establishment, has been robbed no less than five times – what with the easy access allowed to burglars through rusty corrugated rooftops.

All but a few more fortunate tradesmen in the area are in the same boat and a mere stroll through the crafts village brings about the dismal revelation that approximately half the outlets are closed.

However, those remaining open for business are desperate to commence face-lifting projects in time for the village's high season of summer.

The initial redevelopment plan of the area was submitted in April 1994, the plan was revised in March 1998, while a permit was issued in June 1998. The new plan, which is yet to be set in motion, provides for the pedestrianisation of the whole crafts village during business hours, the isolation of the carpenters from the rest of the village and an increase in the number of units.

The Crafts Village currently accommodates some 140 Nissen huts built way back during the Second World War by the Royal Air Force.

Last July the Cabinet approved a development brief for the Crafts Village, which was submitted to the Planning Authority for approval. The brief, which was drawn up in line with the Ta Qali action plan, included the institution of a Craft Village in the form of a theme park, a formal garden and a recreational area.

Edwin Vassallo explained at the time, "We want to see the leisure industry combined with crafts to make the place more attractive.

"It is a public-private partnership where the government provides the land. The developer has to take responsibility to build while the current tenants would remain in business."

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt