“The voice of the people must be heeded.”

Have you followed Myriam Spiteri Debono's first speech as President of Malta? Read an English translation here.

Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, Presidents Emeriti, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, The People of Malta and Gozo…

First of all, I thank the Honourable Members of the House of Representatives, particularly the Prime Minister who nominated me and the Leader of the Opposition who seconded my nomination, for the trust shown in me when they chose to entrust me with the role of President of Malta, our beloved republic, “l-Omm li tatna isimha“.

As a result of this, a Maltese citizen from the island of Gozo is the recipient of the privilege to serve our homeland and its people in the highest appointment of State.

This privilege comes with huge responsibilities that necessitate appreciation of the various facets of this role.

Of primary importance is the constitutional role as embedded in the Constitution. This is the core of the Presidency.

Additional to this, is the widening of the role by the ten Presidents preceding me, including Acting President Pawlu Xuereb. Nowadays, the Presidency is seen by the populace as one of the bulwarks of vulnerable people, as well as those besieged by sickness and misfortune.

My appointment, by agreement between the two sides of the House of Representatives, as well as the nomination of Doctor of Laws Francis Zammit Dimech as Acting President, are a good omen for the pursuit of a path, whereby together we can forge unity amongst us.

This time round, the appointment of the President was made in line with the amendment made in 2020 to article 48 of the Constitution. This amendment introduced the requirement that, the President of the Republic be appointed by not less than two thirds of the Members of the House of Representatives. This amendment placed a heavy responsibility on the Government and the Opposition to do their utmost in order to reach an agreement regarding the nomination of the President of the Republic.

Congratulations are due to all those who contributed to the agreement reached. The absence of an agreement would not have augured well for the future, including with regards to other matters also subject to a vote of not less than two-thirds of the House of Representatives. Also, failing this first test after the agreement regarding the amendment of article 48, would have looked far from good, to say the least.

The two-thirds requirement should not be viewed as a hindrance. Those who lament the fact that the Constitution lays down a majority of two-thirds of the Members of the House for certain matters, are mistaken.

The two-thirds requirement is a tool fostering consensus building, a tool which helps to positively develop the way of doing politics, promotes dialogue, persuasion, and compromise based on an appreciation of the preoccupations of all sides involved in the process – whether the composition of the House is made up of two political formations, as well as, if, as was the case in times past, there are more than two political formations in the House. However, at the present time, this would entail amendments to our electoral system, since, at present, the smaller political formations are at a disadvantage when it comes to the election of members to the House of Representatives. Amendments in this regard would bring our electoral system more into line with the basic democratic principle of “one person, one vote, one value“.

This would also require the consent of a vote supported by not less than two-thirds of Members of the House.

Let us not forget that the founding of the Republic of Malta fifty years ago on the 13th of December 1974, was achieved after agreement reached between the government and the opposition at that time, since a majority of not less than two-thirds of the Members of the House was also required.

I am convinced that when consensus is required, this consensus can be reached. We practised the art of consensus in the past, but we need to practise it more in the future.

The founding of the Republic signified the apex of a laborious process by our ancestors, sometimes achieving a step forward, at other times, through no fault of theirs, resulting in two steps back.

Until Independence in 1964 and the founding of the Republic in 1974, a section of the populace continued to suffer heartache and a sense of betrayal that their request in 1800 to Great Britain for protection, a superpower at that time, developed into colonial domination with the exclusive aim of serving the interests of the colonial master.

As masters in our own homeland, one administration after the other, Malta started developing economically and socially, and, at the present time, we are in a situation where we are no longer preoccupied with the dearth of employment, and we have become a haven for persons who, as our forerunners did during the last century, are leaving their native land in search of a better life. 

This has resulted in a situation where we have an influx of foreigners from countries who do not enjoy the prosperity which we have acquired with the wise direction of our various political leaders.

As a first step in the integration of these foreigners, less fortunate than we are, we must embrace and understand them. We have to go beyond mere tolerance, with its inherent passivity, also, we have to rise above an unwilling acceptance because we need their presence and input.

It is not enough that each and every one of us, contributes generously in money terms so that recourse may be had to supplementary assistance over and above that provided by the State for those who find themselves in a vulnerable position. The generosity in our national character should also manifest itself in wider ways, and should be at the basis of our relationships with each other and with those who seek to live amongst us.

We have also to welcome with open arms those individuals who, with great sacrifice, flee the social/political cruelty in their native country, including situations of armed conflict, and, with the help and cooperation of our European partners, we have to seek ways of assisting them to establish for themselves the foundations for a better life.

Unity, tranquillity, and serenity in our beloved Malta must needs result from a concerted and continuous effort by us all. No president on his own is in possession of a magic wand which overnight brings about unity and harmony.

The promotion of the values of commitment and self-regulation is important. If we are desirous that Malta continues to be an esteemed nation, we have to start from the very young ones. From a very tender age, in the home, in the embrace of the family and grandparents, we have to strive to inculcate in them the principle that, whatever they do, they do it well and in the pursuit of truth. In addition to this, they have to be trained in the science of thought, they have to be trained to think logically and rationally, so they are able to analyse situations, arguments confronting them, and so, take good decisions for their own benefit and the benefit of others.

We have to consciously instil in them love for Malta.

In order to achieve this, kneaded and a natural component of the education system, we have to make them familiar with the natural beauty of Malta and Gozo. They have to be conscious of this beauty, and they have to know their way to each and every corner of Malta and Gozo. In this way, they will be tangibly familiar and have a conscious appreciation of the natural and physical environment of our country, which physical and natural and environment is being continuously threatened.

From a very tender age, we have to introduce them to the beauty and depth of our rich history and culture in order to strengthen their appreciation of our national identity, not least, our mother tongue, as well as Maltese literature, which has widened and deepened these last seventy years.

Respect for fundamental human rights should not only be observed because it is a legal obligation engraved in our Constitution, but because we feel them strongly in our innermost self. Individuals are at the basis of these rights, and each and every individual is a small cell, forming part of the mass of humankind.

Article one (1), sub-article three (3) of our Constitution, apart from enunciating the declaration of Malta’s neutrality also states that Malta is a state, ‘actively pursuing peace, security, and social progress among all nations‘.

The active pursuit of peace may be viewed as an extension of the right of individuals, as making up the collectivity of humankind. Individuals, as part of the human collective, only attain their full potential if they operate and develop in a serene environment. The widening of the concept of fundamental human rights of the individual to include also human rights as a collective right of humanity is tied up with the concept of the common heritage of mankind, as proposed by Malta in the United Nations towards the end of the 1960s. In this context, let us not forget that the United Nations Charter refers to “peoples“.

Although it appears a far-off dream, a Utopia, as a nation in the United Nations, we have to strive in order that the United Nations is better equipped to foster peace. Let us not be discouraged, because this is a long laborious road full of downs more than ups, its progress less than a snail’s pace. For long years, it has been felt that, as a global organisation, supposedly engaged in the promotion of peace, the present-United Nations is as toothless as the League of Nations before the Second World War.

Recently, in international fora, Malta has continued to actively and concretely strive against the horrors of war, wherever they are situated, whatever the cause at their root, without any distinction – however, since Malta is a member of the European Union, and also because of Malta’s involvement in the first Helsinki conference, where Malta brought to the forefront the argument that one cannot have security in Europe without security in the Mediterranean, in Malta, more exposure is being given to the Russo-Ukrainian War and the conflicts in the Middle East.

Malta never ceases to promote peace and, in this current year, Malta has been entrusted with the Chairpersonship of the OSCE. It is to be noted that in the second Helsinki Conference – part of the documents known as the Helsinki Accords and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe – Malta moved a motion for the founding of an organisation (the present OSCE, formerly known as CSCE) advocating regional arrangements for peacekeeping according to the definition from Chapter eight (VIII) of the United Nations Charter.

Wars and armed conflicts are of detriment to humanity in all ways. Machines of war pollute and destroy not only humankind, but the planet itself.

Within the confines of our national territory, we have to strengthen those services provided by the State for the common good of its citizens; not only as regards education, but also as regards health. Our present challenge in this sector is to bring to the fore the mental health of our people in order to eradicate the taboos and prejudices surrounding it.

However, aside from physical and mental sickness, another affliction is hitting our shores – financial greed.

The relentless pursuit of riches, more often than not, translates itself into various forms of corruption; the pursuer becomes indifferent to the suffering he may directly or indirectly cause others. It is worse than substance addiction, which, in the perception of the majority of people, is the worst addiction one can suffer from. The drug addict, mainly, harms himself; greed harms the whole of society.

The concept of good governance is a concept which should never be sidelined. It forms part of the widening and the evolution of democracy. We have already started working on this. I, myself, am the product of one of the reforms implementing broadening of governance. Some of these reforms were implemented following recommendations from outside our shores.

The recommendations of public inquiries are native to us. If the recommendations of public inquiries are not implemented, public inquiries become a useless exercise. It appears that, with regards to the public inquiry in the death of the youth Jean Paul Sofia, the political will to incorporate these recommendations into the law, exists.

However, a lot still needs to be done in the implementation of the recommendations made by the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

I am particularly referring to those reforms concerning the media. I emphasise that the media, together with the three organs of the State, is the fourth pillar of democracy.

With the advent of electronic media, the media has truly transformed itself into ‘mass media’. From a positive angle, electronic media has given a voice to more and more citizens, if it is used correctly and for good purpose.

Scrutiny of government is not the exclusive domain of the Opposition in Parliament; the media in its various forms exercises scrutiny not only on the Government, but also on the Opposition, and spurs them on to better themselves and be of greater service to the people.

The media is the voice of the people. It acts as the messenger of people’s sentiments, and has the duty to air and disseminate the voices of the minorities. Due weight should be given to the voice of civil societies and the various aims for which they were set up.

When the people gather in the streets and squares in order to be heard, provided this is done in a peaceful manner and absolutely devoid of physical and verbal violence, this is nothing more or less than an exercise of the people’s sovereignty. The voice of the people must be heeded. 

A change in policy should not be another opportunity to fling barbs at each other. In the public arena, it is not easy that one admits one’s mistakes and changes route. Let us not make it more difficult. A change of route, at least in more important matters, should be lauded and not debased as a ‘U-turn’, thereby discouraging the corrections needed.

Persons involved in politics, all together, have got to seriously see that they do not cause apathy towards politics in the populace. It appears that more and more people feel that politics jars. They are indifferent where politics are concerned. If this situation is not seriously tackled, our country shall suffer from a shortage of future leaders from the youthful segment of society. I salute the young politicians who contribute in the Local Councils and the youthful intake in the present House of Representatives; however, more and more of them should be given space and encouraged in order that they may actively participate in the future leadership of our country.

Agreement regarding various matters is possible. I shall do my utmost to be an instrument of unity, raising Malta’s national and international profile and esteem. A section of the people is of the opinion that the Constitution should be changed to reflect changed circumstances. There has been talk of having a constitutional convention, and this has, from time to time, surfaced during the three previous presidencies. A lot of groundwork has already been done in the preceding presidency. His Excellency President George Vella, from the way he has expressed himself, seems to be of the opinion that once the convention is launched, the Presidency should stop there and entrust the convention to a person or persons with the best qualities to take it forward. If I have understood this correctly, I agree one hundred percent; but all this depends on agreement being reached in the choice of persons to be entrusted with this task.

As for the economic sector, a long-term plan ensures stability and does not give rise to upheavals when a new administration follows the previous one, since this greater stability encourages more local and foreign investment. Again, in order to achieve this, agreement between the two sides of the House is necessary; this after discussions with experts and social partners.

We have to find concrete ways of action to increase reciprocal trust amongst us and in the public administration. We should strive to reform for the better the organs and institutions of the State, the administration of justice, the forces of law and order.

The wound generated by the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is still wide open and bleeding. Healing is a must in order that this horrendous episode be wound up. Once and for all. Otherwise, we cannot move forward. Otherwise, its fallout shall continue to haunt us.

Although a considerable period of time has elapsed since the deaths of Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana, these two episodes never had closure, and, as a consequence of this, their wounds are still seeping. Let us make sure that this does not happen again.

My Gozitan brethren would feel slighted if I were not to find ways in order that they also feel that the Presidency is near to them. Coming from the island of Gozo, I personally know what this means and entails, and the extra effort Gozitans are subjected to because of this strip of water separating Gozo from Malta.

In the coming five years, I aim to be visible and accessible. This does not mean that I shall interfere or have my say on all matters. I shall express myself in the open when I feel that the need arises and the situation so warrants.

I want the Presidency of the coming five years to be known as the Presidency of the people and for the people.

Nobody, none, and nothing, is greater than Malta, our mother country. This includes the two major political parties. I know at first hand that both of them desire and aspire to do good to our country. In this regard, I appeal to the two leaders to openly, by their example, concretely expose that their love for Malta and its people comes first and foremost. Following their example, also their followers shall place at the very top Malta’s welfare before that of the party. In a nutshell, the collective should have precedence over egoistic interests.

The exercise of internal discipline in the party should be the preparation and foundation of correct conduct and standards when the party is entrusted with government by the electorate.

We have the necessary qualities to achieve success in the different endeavours required to make Malta a better place for our progeny, present and future generations. Let us do it together.

Thank you. ​

Translation by the Office of the President

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