Former PM Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici passes away

The death was announced early this morning of former Labour Prime Minister and PL leader, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. He was 89.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici, the the fifth leader of the Labour Party between December 1984 and March 1992, was Prime Minister between December 1984 and May

Dr Mifsud Bonnici was born on July 13, 1933, in Bormla (Cospicua), the son of Lorenzo and Catherine. He studied at the Lyceum and later the University of Malta, where he studied a Bachelor of Arts. In 1954, he graduated with a Doctorate of Law. Between 1967 and 1968, he studied industrial law at the University of London and later became a lecturer on Industrial and Fiscal Law at the University of Malta.

In 1969, Dr Mifsud Bonnici was appointed as a consultant to the General Workers’ Union, where he was instrumental in stopping legislation that the then Nationalist Government wanted to introduce, which included a prison sentence for striking workers.

On  May 29,1980, during the PL General Conference, then Prime Minister Dom Mintoff proposed that Dr Mifsud Bonnici becomes Deputy Leader for Party Affairs. This motion was approved unanimously.

During this period, Dr Mifsud Bonnici was in charge of the electoral campaign for the general election of 1981, when the Labor Party won the third consecutive general election. In May 1982, hewas co-opted in Parliament and was appointed Minister for Work and Social Services.

On  October 15,1982, Prime Minister Dom Mintoff proposed that Dr Mifsud Bonnici be his successor. In September 1983, Dr Mifsud Bonnici was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, during which time, he took an active part to resolve the issue between the Government and the Church, on the ‘education is for everyone’ reform.

On  December 22, 1984, Dr Mifsud Bonnici took the oath of office as the ninth Prime Minister of Malta, following Dom Mintoff’s resignation from the post. During his time as Prime Minister, Dr Mifsud Bonnici worked for amendments to the Constitution of Malta, which led to the country being acknowledges as a neutral country, and also a change in the electoral laws.

After the 1987 general election, Dr Mifsud Bonnici became Leader of the Opposition and remained Labour Leader – a position he resigned followed the 1992 general election to be succeeded by Dr Alfred Sant. He held his parliamentary seat until the 1996 election and after that election he did not contest again.

In a statement the Labour Party said Dr Mifsud Bonnici will be remembered for his social democratic ideals he had embraced with conviction and the way he dedicated his life to the working class. The party acknowledged the hard work put by Dr Mifsud Bonnici in order to shape the strong socialist principles of the party and sent its sincere condolences to his relatives and those closest to him.

Prime Minister pays respect

Prime Minister Robert Abela described Dr Mifsud Bonnici as a person who made an enormous contribution in favour of the worker’s cause. In a message on social media, Dr Abela said ‘the loss of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici is the loss of a gentleman who throughout his life made an enormous contribution in favour of the worker’s cause, with his contribution in the politics, the trade unions and his profession. I believe that this is the most outstanding characteristic in him.’

Robert Abela said his discussions with Dr Mifsud Bonnici often revolved around the need to help the most underpriveleged, who Dr Mifsud Bonnici embraced throughout his life.

‘In the discussions we used to have, often over a coffee before Court, I always admired in him the sense of service he wanted to give to the lower class. Everything he knew he always wanted to use in practice for this purpose,’ wrote the Prime Minister.

Robert Abela also emphasised that ‘as much as he loved the worker, he also loved his country. Karmenu remains an example for many.’

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Dr. Mark Said
Dr. Mark Said
1 year ago

De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est – speak nothing but good of the dead. KMB, as he was popularly referred to in his political heydays, including the unfair labelling of ‘iż-Żero’, most probably will be remembered for the wrong reasons. It is not up to me and this is not the right time and forum to judge and give a verdict on his past political stint in turbulent times. On the demise of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici I wish to give some idea of the breadth and importance of his professional, philanthropic and political work and of the fundamental goodness of the man. For this only, he will be sorely missed.

Physically, he might have appeared in a poor state lately but was in great mental shape and his inquiring spirit remained always young. His family and friends, his colleagues, and all the people around us who have benefited from his work in various fields have been cheated of many more good years of Karmenu.

As one of his law students, I had been strongly influenced by his broad knowledge of the law, philosophical thought and society, his intellectual curiosity, his work ethic, his kindness, and his love for mankind. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be his student, and he will live in my heart as a great mentor forever. To me, the most remarkable thing about Karmenu was his selflessness and goodwill. He never pushed or sought anything for himself and he was always willing to extend himself to others. He pitched in and just did what needed to be done, without complaint, without needing or seeking recognition. Even in later years when his health started failing him, he was as active and engaged a colleague as anyone. And always modest, soft-spoken, gentle, and that rarest of beings in the legal academy: a truly humble man.

Throughout his long legal profession practice, respect, courtesy, and gentleness were certainly important parts of his character. But of his many virtues, the one that struck me most powerfully was his integrity. He did what he thought was right, whether or not it was popular or good for his career. He never even seemed to think about doing anything else and he never seemed to be tempted, because doing anything other than the right thing never seemed to occur to him as an option. I remember describing himself as being a “general practitioner.” In the days of specialists, he was something of a relic of the past, a lawyer who would find a way to assist with any problem a client had. A lawyer for a family or a business to rely on, he was always ready to go that extra mile to satisfy clients. He would always say, “I don’t have all the answers but I am a quick study and I know where to look for them.” Karmenu was one of the good lawyers, one who brought honour to the profession. He was diligent with his clients and respectful to his adversaries even as he fought diligently. And he was always a voice of reason.

One of his last noble gestures for which he will surely be remembered was when in March of 2022, through the intervention of Arnold Cassola, he donated his vast private collection of books and newspapers to the University of Malta Library. Even before his illness started to advance, the only thing that made him sad, I think, was the unfinished task of calling lawyers back to the ideals he lived by and believed in.

This is the rare legacy that he has bequeathed to us. May he rest in peace.