“Constitutional protection for our environment and heritage”

Former President urges policy-makers to ensure their decisions and actions reflect the people’s needs and aspirations.

The time has come for environmental and national heritage protection to be enshrined in the Constitution in a bid to help fulfil the aspirations of those who call Malta their home, said Former President of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

At a conference themed ‘Malta: An aspiration that unites us’, organised by Steve Ellul, Labour candidate for the European Parliament elections, Coleiro Preca urged policy-makers to ensure their decisions and actions reflect the people’s needs and hopes. Arguing that analysing the people’s evolving priorities and needs is key to understanding their aspirations and charting the country’s course in a fast-changing world, she pointed to the current debate on artificial intelligence’s impact on society – a topic absent from the last electoral campaign just two years ago – as a prime example of how quickly our society is evolving.

“We need a constantly updated vision, a clear long-term strategy, and an implementation plan with defined timelines. Strong enforcement mechanisms are also crucial,” she remarked, advocating for comprehensive national policies that transcend individual government terms. She added that one such policy should focus on human resources, and pointed out the dearth of Maltese teachers, psychologists, and social workers. She stressed that, unless the country has enough of the human resources it needs, it cannot continue advancing its economy.

Steve Ellul (r), PL candidate for the European elections, who hosted the national conference.

The former Head of State emphasised that Malta must always prioritise social justice, where wealth accumulation doesn’t come at the cost of the underprivileged. People should not be cogs in the economic machine but the economy must empower their well-being.

Coleiro Preca expressed her desire for a more democratic society that fosters active citizenship, critical thinking, and inclusivity; a society where everyone, including youths and children, feels encouraged to participate and can lead a more fulfilling life. Observing the country’s appeal to tourists while its young people rank among the least happy in Europe, she urged an investigation into the underlying causes. She highlighted the fact that more than 600 fully-qualified young Maltese aged between 15 and 29 emigrated from Malta in 2021; an average of 50 per month.

Drawing from a report on ‘Wellbeing of Children and Young People in Malta’, just released by the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, which she chairs, she said some statistics paint a concerning picture and will be followed up to understand the broader context. One in 6 children aged between 7 and 8 years experience regular bullying, over a third of children aged between 11 and 15 witness daily school fights, and 10% of adolescents turn to self-harm or substance abuse. Additionally, verbal abuse and social exclusion are common, and financial worries plague a significant portion of families.

Describing children as the foundation of our society, she cautioned that neglecting their well-being now can lead to societal collapse in the future. Underlining the importance of early intervention, she argued that maternal health services present a crucial opportunity in this regard. Regular prenatal checkups allow for potential vulnerabilities, such as mental health issues or poverty, to be identified before a child is born and take timely action to offer the necessary support.

Former President of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, addressing the national conference.

Coleiro Preca stressed the importance of Malta persistently advocating for and championing its neutral status and unwavering belief in peace. In this light, she commended Prime Minister Robert Abela for striving to ensure that a safeguard of Malta’s neutrality was included in the recent European Union agreement to strengthen the bloc’s defence spending. She noted that this spending will primarily benefit the economies of EU nations that export arms, including France, Italy, and Germany.

As the 8th June European elections approach, the national conference served as a space for a frank and unconstrained debate on the Malta people want for today and the generations to come. The event brought together a cross-section of Maltese society, including Acting President Frank Bezzina, the social partners, business leaders, academics, NGOs, athletes, environmentalists, students, youths, senior citizens, and experts in various fields. It was moderated by Sandro Mangion, editor of The Journal.

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