Honourable Prime Minister
Honourable Leader of the Opposition
Colleagues Presidents Emeriti
The 13th of December is Republic Day, a day in which we celebrate the Republican status of our country, the political status achieved after centuries of foreign domination and rule.
Above all, we celebrate the people of this nation, who throughout its history have built on their ancestors’ foundations, keeping pace with the times, and adapting as needed.
The Republican status declares our will to choose and our sovereign right, as Maltese citizens, to rule our country, free from any interference.
It is customary that on this day, apart from taking the opportunity to recognise and decorate those who in one way or another have contributed to uphold the good name of our country, the President of the Republic shares his thoughts with the people of Malta and Gozo on what our country is going through, as well as on his hopes and wishes about the future of this country.
This is done with utmost respect for the different opinions that exist in our country on several issues, as well as with constitutional loyalty to the views of the Executive and of the majority, as expected in a country governed by parliamentary democracy, built on representative democracy.
This is done without diminishing the voices or the central role of minorities who in every democracy are important and necessary partners in driving a just and inclusive society.
As President of the Republic, I have limited executive powers, and thus I feel that the thoughts and suggestions I share in silent consultations, are more valuable as advice based on measured considerations and thoughts, rather than weighed down by the expectation that what I say will be automatically reflected in any way in a form of legislation.
My Constitutional duty is to ensure, above all, the rule of law, governance, and the preservation of stable relations between the Presidency and the other Constitutional institutions of the country.
If we ask ourselves what held our attention the most last year, most people will no doubt mention the COVID-19 pandemic. And rightly so!
Everyone agrees that this virus has wreaked havoc in our lives and created unprecedented situations… situations that we had to adapt to, and possibly solve as we went through them. We never experienced anything like this before. Everything was new.
Our country will always be grateful to the professionals who rolled up their sleeves to work, day and night, and who, after following closely other countries’ experiences, drew up an action plan which was successfully carried out through the cooperation of all sectors and departments whose action was required, all the while the people’s confidence in the authorities’ recommendations continued to grow.
To all of them, our country will always be grateful.
Our country, on the other hand, remains saddened by the over 470 people who fell victim to this pandemic, and their passing has caused great sadness, frustration, and regret among their loved ones.
The pandemic is not over yet, and it would be premature for anyone to make any predictions about the future. Undoubtedly, because of the measures taken, and, above all, the nationwide vaccination programme, we currently seem to have some control over its spread in our country, as long as no new more infectious variants emerge.
Certainly, during the past year, this pandemic has had a profound effect on our country’s economy, on our social life, and on the mental health of all sections of Maltese society, from our children to our elderly.
We are still recovering from this pandemic, as are many countries around the world. In this regard, I want to reflect on the fact that this pandemic, as if we needed another reminder, has clearly shown us the great divide that exists in the world, between the developed and affluent, and the less developed and poor countries.
Due to poverty, some nations still have no access to vaccines. The pandemic has shown us once again the reality around us. The reality is that the solidarity we talk about so much, is often just a word that does not translate into anything.
I must say that faced with this scenario, our country, despite the limitations distributed and offered its extra protective clothing and vaccines for free to other countries.
Faced with the new reality caused by COVID-19, we have managed to put solidarity into practice, not only among ourselves in our own country, but also with foreign peoples.
Aware of the restrictions that have been imposed by COVID, our country is sensibly, carefully, and cautiously opening its doors to re-establishing foreign contacts in order for the economy to bounce back… especially in the field of tourism.
Meanwhile our country over the last year has had to face two other challenges.
One was searching for and serving justice to those involved in the murder of Mrs Daphne Caruana Galizia. The general desire is that the investigative and the judicial aspect will lead to finding out who was responsible and getting what they deserve. Thus, one hopes that the strictly legal aspect will be settled. The wounds will remain. The lessons will remain for us to learn from them. No one is above the law. And the rule of law and the protection of human rights must remain crucial tools for the fair and democratic functioning of our country.
The other challenge concerned the push, by both the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and elements of civil society, for further separation of powers in the administration of our country.
These proposals were the subject of heated discussions within the Commission for Constitutional Reform, and eventually led to the legislation giving new powers to the President of the Republic with regard to the appointment of Members of the Judiciary, as well as regulating the way in which the President himself is elected and, if necessary, removed.
Other laws in this process included the separation of the functions of the Advocate of the Republic, and the way in which officials holding constitutional office, such as the Auditor General and the Ombudsman, are selected so that their appointment will be more representative of the parliamentary will and ultimately more secure.
The remaining difficulties concern the need for the so-called ‘anti-deadlock mechanism’ to unblock situations where the required agreement of two-thirds of parliamentary support for certain appointments is not reached. One such example is the appointment of a new Ombudsman. I hereby call on the parties concerned to agree on one person.
Due to the restrictions imposed by the health authorities, the activities within the Presidency were very limited, and ‘in person’ meetings with both foreigners and Maltese citizens were drastically reduced.
The desire to work to bridge the differences between us, on the road to national unity, despite these restrictions, was strongly voiced in the conference on this subject held by the Presidency.
Irrespective of how achievable this goal is, I truly believe that if we continue to work on reducing our differences, we will get closer to this target. Maybe we do not realise that as a nation we are already united in many ways.
During the pandemic, we truly showed how unity and solidarity should be like. In fundraising marathons, such as L-Istrina, all the people of Malta and Gozo come together to help those in need. We must build on such examples in the hope of getting closer to each other in other areas.
We will definitely not build on the behaviour of the few who had the audacity of showing feelings of racism and xenophobia, and a lack of respect towards a foreigner who got injured at work, or towards someone contemplating whether to take his own life.
The Foundation for National Unity, which will be announced soon, will provide a neutral forum to discuss various topics, and to implement an action programme aimed at bridging the differences between us.
The Conference on the State of the Nation, which analysed a scientific study based on statistics on what the people of Malta think about various aspects of our daily lives, clearly showed how our society is developing to be more liberal in thinking, while remaining quite conservative in terms of certain values linked to beliefs, and trust in each other. Such a study sheds light on the state of our nation and I believe it should have a place in our country’s annual calendar.
This year we also commemorated 100 years since the British Colonial Government granted us a form of Partial Administrative Responsibility in the running of our country, the so-called ‘Self-Government’.
From there we began our journey, with quite a few bumps, to a culture of parliamentary democracy and democratic representation. Over the years, Parliament has undergone major changes, including the removal of the Senate, and the introduction of a number of House Committees that have radically changed the way how and where scrutiny – the primary function of each parliament – is carried out.
There are many suggestions on how to make our Parliament more assertive and efficient in its work. One cannot rule out more room for reform, both with regard to the electoral systems and the practices within the ever-crucial institution to democracy.
I hope we will be able to discuss these and many more suggestions on how to improve our Constitution, when, once the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic are lifted, we can resume the constitutional reform process, and convene the Convention to deliberate and give its opinion on the many proposals we have gathered from the public consultation held last year.
A high level of Parliamentary debate should remain a priority as well as the adoption and application of more rigid systems of transparency, ethics, and accountability. This is the only way we can ensure that Parliament receives the utmost respect, increases mutual respect between our parliamentarians, and attracts citizens’ sound contributions by becoming more involved and engaged in politics.
I take this opportunity to thank those hundreds of Members of Parliament, and Speakers of the House of Representatives, who over the years have contributed to strengthening the parliamentary system in our country.
In a few months, our country will experience the essence of democracy… the people will elect by free vote the government they want to lead them for the next five years.
My appeal is to respect the people’s intelligence and to put before them clear and unequivocal working programmes and policies that will be implemented if chosen to lead. It is my hope that Constitutional structures in charge of ensuring the democratic course of the electoral process, as has happened in the past, will reassure the people about the integrity of the process. I also augur this to those responsible for broadcasting balance as well as to all those responsible for the protection of public order.
Whoever is going to lead our country, apart from having to make up for the damage caused by COVID-19, must also face problems, some new, some old, that are found in every society, even in the most developed ones.
None of these problems can be ignored.
I am referring to the social problems, resulting from many factors, which unfortunately bring great suffering to the victims. I am referring to those who, despite all forms of help, remain in chronic poverty and in a precarious social situation. Some are victims of usury.
Those who fall victim of psychotropic substances, drugs, alcohol, and other addictions, such as gambling. I am referring to those who end up without a roof over their heads, and those who are forced to avail of the tremendous charity efforts by volunteer centres that either provide foodstuffs, or even provide ready meals. I am also referring to the sickening phenomenon of domestic violence, and the abuse of the weak, or the elderly.
We cannot turn a blind eye to these challenges and pretend that these do not exist. We cannot ignore the injustices and sufferings of others.
They also form part of our society, and it would be very wise if we all – government, voluntary organisations, individuals, professionals, academics, etc. – put our heads together to address and focus on these problems. Empathy, tolerance, inclusion, and unity should remain at the forefront of our national and political agenda.
Anyone communicating with the masses and following the results of public opinion polls, understands that apart from the various social issues, we have other problems known to everyone, and that affect everyone’s quality of life.
First is the threat of the extensive building and construction works taking up more and more space from agricultural and virgin land. In order to protect the beauty and sustainability of our country we must find a balance between the built and the natural environment.
Finding a balance in such a small country, with its pressures due to economic development and the high standard of living, is not easy. Moreover, there is a general call for new buildings to be built with more character, and to stop the uglification of our landscapes.
I call on the regulatory authorities in this area to use all the rules and means at their disposal, to ensure a more sustainable and beautiful development, while respecting the Maltese, and in particular the Gozitan, environment.
Migration is also high on the list of priorities of the people of Malta and Gozo. We have little control over how and where this phenomenon starts, but certainly huge responsibilities fall on our shoulders when they arrive in our country. International law obliges us to do our utmost to help them, but there are no laws forcing other countries, which talk a lot about solidarity, to share this burden with us. This is the problem that our country is facing, and it is important that in international fora, especially within the European Union, we constantly remind other members of their duties.
Migrants deserving of a refugee status, or humanitarian protection, must benefit from all the rights conferred by international law. This would be much easier if the numbers were contained, as would happen if there was an agreement to distribute them among all, or at least several, countries.
Another challenge is how to address transport in our country. I hope that in the race for innovative ideas, we do not embark on projects that, apart from the environmental and social issues they might create when implemented, are environmentally, economically, and socially unviable.
At a different level and in the social sphere, there is the phenomenon of the abusive use of social media, which leads to hate speech, incitement, threats, and even character assassination of the victim of such abuse. This reflects a lack of tolerance for the opinions of others because they are contrary to one’s beliefs.
I feel that we should make a greater effort in this area to seriously educate our children and youths in the proper use of these means of communication. Education is not only academic, but a truly holistic education that is first and foremost built on sound principles and values, including the acceptance of others’ opinions, on the skill and art of correct and informed debate, as well as on training in the art of persuading and convincing others, through arguments and logic, and not through shouting, allegations, and imposition.
I have mentioned a few problems that I believe are worrying the people of Malta and Gozo, and I dare to reflect on whether these are some of the reasons why we are recently hearing, a little more than usual, that our youths want to leave our country.
Such news upsets me, as Head of State. We have great talent around us, and I am proud that many of our youths reach a high level of education. We must continue to encourage and offer every opportunity for our youths to reach the highest levels in both academic and technical fields, to be able to contribute to our country’s economic and social development and to their own future in our dear country.
International entities are predicting a positive economic future for our country, despite the recent decision of the Financial Action Task Force stating the need for more rigorous scrutiny regarding financial transfers and deposits in our country.
Positive economic development does not happen automatically. We must work for it, and I would add that if this is achieved through the efforts of Maltese talent, it will be so much better.
I firmly believe that we should look forward with great confidence in each other; confidence in our abilities, confidence in the will of steel that the people of Malta have always shown especially when faced with challenges, and confidence in the love we all have for our dear homeland.
I do not want to give the impression that our country is wearing blinkers and only cares about its domestic problems. In our smallness, we are also an integral part of everything that happens around us, both regionally and globally. We cannot only focus on tackling our internal problems and fail to do our part in alleviating the global and regional issues that may adversely affect us if ignored.
Aware of its size and knowing that no country – not even larger countries – can single-handedly solve the problems the world is facing today, Malta firmly believes that the problems we are facing in the international scene can be only addressed when working together with a number of other countries. This is the multilateralism we talk about so much today.
There is a major threat to our planet which we can only avert by achieving the goals set by scientific studies. Otherwise, we run the risk of bequeathing to our children a planet in an unprecedented atmospheric turmoil. The forecasts are not good, and the warning is very serious based on phenomena that are already happening around us.
The planet itself is showing us. These unusual disturbances in climate and environmental phenomena are the effect of the damage we permitted over the years.
It is good to hold conferences. It is good to make promises. But if we fail to act, all will be in vain. Our country is small and proportionately has little effect on the world’s climate turmoil. This does not exempt us from doing our duty, and from being an example to countries much larger than ours. Our second duty is to take every opportunity to preach to them about the potential destruction should we not heed the warnings.
Many of these measures relate to energy production and consumption. In the past, securing oil and coal supplies, which were the sources of energy, shaped foreign policy and the international relations of the countries around the world. Today we are a step away from a revolution and a radical change in these relations. The choice of energy source and type will help shape new relationships and determine future international ties and friendships.
Everything will revolve around the energy supply, whatever its form.
All this is also linked to all those measures that must be taken in order to achieve the so-called Sustainable Development Goals by the end of the year 2030.
The European Union itself, of which we are now a member, originated from the need felt by several countries to regularise their dealings in the supply, purchase and sale of the then main source of energy… coal, along with steel.
European unity today has gone far beyond the coal and steel business. Over the past years, its member countries, through continuous consultation and agreement, have succeeded in drawing up rules which practically dictate how each sector of the life of the European citizens operates. There is a growing sentiment that citizens are feeling led by anonymous bureaucrats in Brussels.
Hence the need for a wide-ranging consultation, for European citizens to discuss, propose, and shape the future of the European Union. This process is underway, and our country is also contributing. Sadly, I do not see this process reflected in any way in articles, conferences, posts, or discussions in social media. Unfortunately, in our country social media is more interested in nonsense, in berating one another, and in partisan rivalries.
It would be much wiser to jump at the chance to make suggestions for a better European Union, and not miss this opportunity.
Our interests as a small country, in our geostrategic context, will not be fought for by the big countries of the European Union. We must express our wishes and make suggestions on how to achieve these goals. This ranges from laws governing member countries, to agreements regulating the European Union’s relations with third countries, especially those in its neighbourhood.
Our country has a special interest in the region we are in… the Mediterranean; a crucial region for the security of the whole of Europe. It is our duty to ensure that the European Union does not focus all its attention on the problems of Central Europe, and overlook the problems of the Mediterranean and, by extension, of the African continent.
Our region has enough problems, some of which have been going on for years.
It is already a pity that peoples are unable to restore peace among themselves, but it is an even bigger pity that certain foreign countries have ulterior interests and focus all efforts on their own interests rather than on those of the troubled country.
Moreover, the United Nations, despite its initial good intentions, and despite all the good things it still does to this day also through its agencies, today urgently needs to renew its systems and structure in order to be more effective. There is a need for a more democratic representation that reflects today’s demographic and economic realities, as well as a reform of the system of how the Security Council is formed.
We firmly believe in multilateralism, and the United Nations is the quintessential example of how to operate such political system. That is why our country hopes to have the opportunity to be elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.
The Republic of Malta has a particular interest in maintaining peace both around us and in the rest of the world.
We want to see less sales of weapons, that only lead to fighting, killing, suffering, and division.
We have a strong interest in protecting the rights of every human being, no matter the race, no matter the beliefs, no matter the skin colour.
We want a society that respects and upholds the rule of law.
We have a strong desire to see sustainable economic development around us.
We want to see economic wealth distributed fairly and equitably.
We want everyone to be treated equally and for everyone to enjoy the same rights and respect.
We want to see a future where we seek more unity and less division among us.
We want to see a future in which we look forward with greater mutual confidence.
This is the Republic of Malta that I wish to see developing over the coming years.
These are the challenges we face as a sovereign and responsible people.
Source: Office of the Prime Minister