Karmenu: beyond the headlines

On the 5th November last year, Malta lost one of its sons, who served the nation and its people as Prime Minister from December 1984 to May 1987. An appreciation of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici (1933-2022).

The news that Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici had left this world at the age of 89 on the 5th of November 2022 shocked and saddened many, even though it had been known for a long time that he was becoming increasingly unwell.

Upon his death, a new chapter in his story began to unfold. Several of his close associates, including political opponents, shared stories that revealed his many positive qualities.

History has been rather unkind to Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. Many only remember him as a controversial figure during a time of heightened political tension, but he was much more than that. To better understand and appreciate the man, beyond his roles as Prime Minister and Leader of the Malta Labour Party (MLP), we must look beyond the headlines.

Early life

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was born on the 17th July 1933 in Srejdek Alley, Bormla, a stone’s throw away from the city’s collegiate church. The Mifsud Bonnici family was prominent and respected in the community due to its many distinguished members, including clergy, judges, and politicians. Karmenu was the son of Dr Lorenzo Mifsud Bonnici and Catherine née Buttigieg. Apart from Karmenu they also had five other children, three sons and two daughters, with Karmenu being the third child.

His father was a revered community doctor who used his profession to help the poor and the sick. He was the physician of the future Maltese Saint George Preca and a friend of the future Neapolitan Saint Giuseppe Moscati.Karmenu’s mother was a teacher in a government school. In the words of Karmenu himself, the Mifsud Bonnici family was a very close-knit family. In addition to his parents and their six sons, three other relatives also shared their Cospicua house: Lorenzo’s uncle together with his brother, and Catherine’s mother. It was therefore quite a large family, typical of Maltese families in the 1930s.

Karmenu always referred to his childhood fondly and said that it had a great influence on the formation of his character. When he was only seven years old, the Second World War broke out in Malta and, naturally, it had a significant impact on Karmenu’s childhood. Like the rest of Cottonera, Bormla was badly hit by the Axis bombings, which left many areas in ruins and caused injuries and deaths. Therefore, like many others, the Mifsud Bonnici family migrated from Cottonera to Ħamrun, where the effects of the war were less dramatic.

During the period of the Second World War, the Mifsud Bonnici family lived in a house opposite the Church of Saint Cajetan, now the Labour Party club. Later, the family moved again and went to live in another house in Ħamrun, this time in the vicinity of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Karmenu continued to live in this house for the rest of his life.

Karmenu considered this period as “five years of lost childhood”; five years during which, as a child, he had to spend long hours sheltering from air raids. He received his education at the School of the Sisters of St Joseph in Paola, at the primary school of Ħamrun, and then at the Lyceum – he spent three years in Ħamrun and then continued his studies in Valletta. At the Lyceum, Karmenu followed a number of academic subjects that included sciences and languages, but he was trained mostly in Latin and Italian, which were the required subjects to read law. Though his family, given their background, encouraged him to pursue a profession, he considered his decision to become a lawyer to be his own.

A young activist

As a young man, Karmenu continued his studies at the Royal University of Malta, where in addition to reading law, he became involved in student and youth organisations that had an impact on society through their activism. This activism had started to instil in Karmenu an active interest in social issues, in Malta and even beyond. In his own words, the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary had a profound impact on him. He and other students went door-to-door in towns and villages to collect donations and clothes in solidarity with the Hungarian people.

Karmenu graduated from University in 1954 after successfully completing the law course, where he chose to specialise in industrial law. Industrial law was very close to his heart, especially the field of trade names, so much so that he based his thesis on the same subject matter. Karmenu’s connection with the University did not stop there, as he spent several years lecturing on industrial law there. He was appointed as a lecturer after he pursued further studies at the University of London, where he continued to study industrial law while also specialising in fiscal law and taxation. He finished his studies within a period of just over a year, and graduated from the same university in 1968.

Karmenu had a deep love for his students. He organised outings and meals for them, paying for all expenses himself. His connection with young people extended beyond university life. In the 1960s, Karmenu also joined a number of religious organisations affiliated with the Catholic Church, among them the Young Christian Workers (Żgħażagħ Ħaddiema Nsara), of which he was the legal adviser and also the editor of its journal called Il-Ħaddiem (The Worker). At that particular time, during the infamous politico-religious crisis, these organisations were part of what was called the ‘Catholic Junta’, which was in direct conflict with the MLP led by Dom Mintoff.

In the 1970s, Karmenu began his involvement in trade unionism, joining the General Workers’ Union (GWU). This led to closer ties with the MLP, the other arm of the workers’ movement. Lookimg back on this period, Karmenu fondly recalled that, though born and raised in a Nationalist family, he later chose to be a Labour supporter out of conviction.

Defender of workers’ rights

Given his family’s reputation for social conscience, it was no surprise that Karmenu ended up dedicating his life to defending workers’ rights. His keen interest in leftist political beliefs inspired his love for workers’ unions and the workers themselves.

In 1969, Karmenu was appointed legal adviser of the GWU, a role that he assumed so that he could fight against the amendments to the Industrial Relations Bill that were being proposed by the Nationalist government. The amendments included a proposal to revoke the right to strike, which meant that workers could serve a prison sentence for going on strike. Such a law would have crippled the effectiveness and impact of trade unions. Therefore, the MLP and the GWU fought strongly against this proposed amendment. As adviser to the GWU, Karmenu played an important role in this fight. It was at this juncture that he started to cooperate closely with the MLP and eventually started to get involved in the same party.

In this period, as a lawyer, Karmenu played a significant role in defending a number of workers who suffered injustice and were persecuted at their workplace. In the 1960s, as a lawyer for the GWU, Karmenu represented 21 workers who had been unjustly fired from St Luke’s General Hospital. He won the case and the workers were reinstated.

Karmenu had a great respect for the GWU, of which he had remained legal adviser until the eighties.

A man of the people

Karmenu could undoubtedly have made a fortune through his thorough legal knowledge and his excellent skills. Yet, he chose people over money. He used to spend long hours listening to people’s legal and social problems. Who knows how many people went to his legal office to complain that they could not afford to pay their utility bills or for basic needs, including medicines. He would simply cut them a cheque from his own pocket. He was above money and never took money from his clients, even after winning their cases. This was a characteristic he probably inherited from his father who, as a doctor, was known to treat patients free of charge. At times Karmenu even went so far as to pay his opponents’ court costs out of his own pocket, even though he fought diligently for his clients.

Throughout his legal career, Karmenu was guided by ethical values and his love of humanity. He used his keen intellect and persuasive skills to reason his way to win court cases. He became known for his integrity, empathy, and humility, which he instilled in the law students who practiced in his busy office. There, they saw Karmenu giving each client his undivided attention, understanding their needs and even providing solutions to their personal problems. Karmenu’s work as a lawyer never earned him a fortune, but he gained the respect and esteem of his clients and colleagues alike. In court, he always held his head high, always with his trusty old suitcase in hand.

Karmenu was a man who truly wanted to help the most vulnerable people in society. He strived to be their voice and to assist them in any way he could. This was his life’s ambition, and it’s why he entered politics. As a lawyer and later as a politician, he used his position to help those in need, especially the workers and the poor.

Participation in politics

Some say that Karmenu was not cut out for politics, and perhaps they were right. He never wanted to be in politics because he was a quiet, reserved, and simple person. He didn’t like to be the centre of attention or hold positions of power. One could say that he entered politics by accident.

At the beginning of the eighties, then Prime Minister Dom Mintoff had already been leading the MLP for 30 years and was planning to give up his positions both as party leader and Prime Minister. Mintoff was aware that some members of his Cabinet had high ambitions for leadership of the party and the country, but he wanted his successor to be someone carefully chosen from outside the party. He wanted to ensure that the new leader could serve as an instrument of unity and stability for the party while being able to lead the country as Prime Minister.

Since Mintoff knew of Karmenu’s positive qualities and of his track record as legal adviser to the GWU, his eyes fell on him as his potential successor. One day, he called Karmenu to his office at the Auberge de Castille and suggested that he be nominated for the role of MLP Deputy Leader for Party Affairs. Karmenu, impressed by Mintoff’s trust in him, accepted. In May 1980 he was appointed Deputy Leader for Party Affairs, following a unanimous approval by the MLP General Conference. In this position, Karmenu was responsible for the organisation of the party’s electoral campaign for the 1981 general election, an election that gave the MLP at third term in government after winning 34 seats in Parliament, against the Nationalist Party’s 31.

In October 1982, Karmenu was appointed as Designate Leader of the Labour movement through a motion that the General Conference once again approved unanimously. In his first address to the crowd of Labour and GWU delegates (the two organisations had a strategic relationship), just a few moments after his appointment to this post, he vowed:

“I bow my head to your will, my fellow delegates of the Party and the Union, and in doing this I understand that, once again, I promise to be of complete, full, and unreserved service to the Maltese and Gozitan worker.”

After the resignation of the Labour Member of Parliament Paul Xuereb in May 1982, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was co-opted to Parliament. Opposition MPs and their supporters called Karmenu derogatory names such as “Iz-Zero” (the zero) because he was co-opted, not elected. The derogatory comments did not faze Karmenu, whose solid character kept him focused on his political work. In this period, he was also appointed Minister of Employment and Social Services. At the same time, being the Designate Leader of the MLP and, therefore, a Prime Minister in waiting, he was entrusted with leading some Cabinet meetings.

All these moves were part of the gradual process of changes in the leadership of the MLP and of the country, so that Dom Mintoff could give up his place to Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. In 1983, Karmenu was appointed as Senior Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education.

“Jew b’xejn jew xejn”

As Minister of Education, Karmenu played a significant role in the introduction of free education for all. This progressive social measure, while welcomed by many, was opposed by private school owners, including the Catholic Church hierarchy in Malta.Karmenu was determined to end the Church’s use of schools for profit so that everyone could access education in the school of their choice, regardless of their income or background.

Driven by the rallying cry “Jew b’xejn jew xejn” (“Either free or nothing”), Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici engaged in negotiations with the Maltese Catholic Church to abolish the fees charged to parents who sent their children to its schools.

The Maltese government offered subsidies to Church schools that provided free education and was willing to do the same for religious schools that genuinely lacked the resources to operate. However, Karmenu stressed that the Church should first use its assets, including income from the land it possesses, to fund its schools. It was evident that the Church was reluctant to do so.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici had no intention of closing Church schools, but he wanted the principle of free education for all to be accepted and supported through a more equitable distribution of the Church’s wealth. He also claimed that everything the MLP was doing was in accordance with the genuine and true beliefs of the Catholic Church. Relations between the two sides took a negative turn and the case was brought to the attention of the Holy See, which was in agreement with what the Maltese government had proposed, i.e. a census of the wealth of the Church and the putting into practice of the principle of free choice in learning, which could only be effective if education was offered free of charge.

Despite the position of the Holy See, the Church in Malta continued to oppose this reform with all its strength because it wanted to keep the status quo, where it could charge school fees and decide on the choice of students. While this issue was being fought, the Maltese Church had the support of the conservative forces, including the Nationalist Party and the right-wing Press.

Photo credit: Times of Malta

Eventually, the Maltese government headed by Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was proved right by the Holy See, with an agreement making the Church’s schools free for everyone being concluded between the Republic of Malta and the Holy See in 1991. The agreement was signed by a government formed by the Nationalist Party, which had, from the Opposition, resisted the introduction of free education in private schools.

Prime Minister

On the 22nd December 1984, Dom Mintoff resigned as Prime Minister of Malta, making room for his successor, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. After Mintoff’s hour-long speech in Parliament, the brief swearing-in ceremony began. Visibly moved and with his characteristic humility, Bonnici was sworn in as Prime Minister in the presence of Mintoff by then President of Malta Agatha Barbara.

As Prime Minister, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was responsible for citizenship, establishments, the Electoral Office, oil exploration, wireless telegraphy, broadcasting, civil aviation, and ports and shipping. He also held the Home Affairs portfolio, that gave him direct responsibility for the Armed Forces, the Police force, airport security, as well as immigration and the prison. Furthermore, as Minister of Education, he was responsible for education, public libraries, national broadcasting, the Division of Information, and Gozo Affairs.

In his short time as Prime Minister, Karmenu kept the same Cabinet he had inherited from Dom Mintoff and continued to follow a similar political line to his predecessor’s. Accordingly, he continued to give importance to the developments of the country’s infrastructure and to Malta’s diplomatic relations with other countries. The Mifsud Bonnici administration carried out infrastructural works including the construction of roads, growth in industrial estates, and the strengthening of the electricity distribution system.

Karmenu continued to stress the importance of social services and introduced social measures that helped many families, protecting them from financial burdens. These measures included a direct intervention on the part of the Government to ensure stability in the prices of essential products in light of the inflation of the 1980s. During this period more investments continued to be made in national enterprises so that they could continue to advance and give their contribution to the economy. Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici believed that the worker was Malta’s most valuable resource, and he was committed to reducing unemployment and increasing the size of the workforce.

He continued to strengthen Malta’ diplomatic relations with other European countries as well awith others from the Arab world, and this attracted more investment towards the country. Karmenu strengthened, in particular, relations between Malta and Libya, aiming to resolve the oil exploration dispute in the waters between the two countries. Bilateral relations improved a lot and, in April 1986, it was Karmenu who personally gave the Libyan leader Gaddafi an advance warning that the US military intended to strike Tripoli. Had Karmenu had not warned Gaddafi of this attack, the Libyan leader would probably have been killed by the bombing.

Malta’s neutrality and non-aligned status

The policy of neutrality that Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici embraced with conviction spurred him to continue strengthening the country’s diplomatic relations while actively working to maintain peace in the Mediterranean in the context of tension caused by the War Cold. He did this through his participation in international conferences and meetings with foreign leaders. Karmenu continued to emphasise the importance of Malta maintaining its neutrality and non-alignment, meaning that it does not belong to military alliances and does not have foreign military bases on its territory.

In the context of the Cold War Karmenu was opposed to the presence of American and Soviet military vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and was always stressing the importance of disarmament. In January 1987, he played a pivotal role in introducing a reform package comprising two important clauses to the Maltese Constitution: the neutrality clause and the clause amending the electoral law to ensure that the party with the most votes governs. This development occurred against the backdrop of tension and political instability following the outcome of the 1981 election, in which the MLP won a majority of seats in Parliament despite receiving fewer votes than the Nationalist Party (PN), in line with the Constitution at the time. Since the Constitution established that the party winning the majority of seats took office, it was necessary to amend the Constitution. Following a contentious process, Parliament approved the two clauses.

Karmenu remained in office as Prime Minister until the 12th May 1987. The general election of that year was won by the Nationalist Party as a reslt of the amendments to the electoral laws that had been aprproved by Parliament a few week earlier with Karmenu’ support. After losing the election, he ensured a peaceful transition of power to the PN.  

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s vision and commitment to neutrality and non-alignment made Malta the ideal venue for the 1989 Summit between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President George H.W. Bush, which marked the end of the Cold War.

Leader of the Opposition

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s leadership was essential in leading Malta and the MLP through difficult times, both as Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

Despite the persistence of political violence after the 1987 general election, including attacks on MLP clubs and buildings, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s calls for unity, even amid internal party disputes – such as the conflict between Lorry Sant and Dom Mintoff – were a testament to his character and commitment to peace and progress.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s unwavering commitment to unity, even in the face of adversity, made him a beacon of hope and stability for the Malta Labour Party (MLP). His ability to mediate and find solutions to even the most complex problems earned him the respect and admiration of party members, who appreciated his calm and wise leadership.

He diligently attended every parliamentary session as a member of the Opposition, often sitting alone, to scrutinise and debate proposed legislation. He did this not to obstruct the government’s agenda, but to strengthen the legislation. His wisdom and competence were evident in the many instances when Nationalist ministers deferred to his suggestions.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici led the MLP in the 1992 general election, but the PN won again. After the election results were announced, Bonnici decided to resign as party leader after just over seven years at the helm to allow for restructuring and renewal.

Many party members tried to put pressure on him to convince him to stay – he was revered as the leader who steered the MLP through its most turbulent times, instilling courage and unity in its members. However, Karmenu believed that the Party needed to modernise itself under new leadership and he would not budge. After his resignation, Alfred Sant was elected as the party’s new leader.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici remained active in Parliament as an Opposition backbencher until 1996, when he retired from politics to return to his original passion, practicing law. Though no longer as active in politics, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici remained loyal to the Labour Party until the end, participating in its conferences as a delegate as long as his health permitted.

Despite his reduced political involvement, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici retained significant influence. For example, under a Nationalist government, he proposed 86 amendments to the industrial and employment law on behalf of the GWU, of which 82 were accepted. This effectively means that the current Industrial and Employment Law is a testament to his tireless efforts to improve the working conditions of Maltese and Gozitan workers.

The Ark Royal visit

Perhaps the most important event that Karmenu played a part in as Leader of the Opposition was the blockade of the Maltese ports in June 1988. The Nationalist government, elected the previous year, had already shown its disregard for the principles of neutrality and non-alignment. It was clear that it had only voted in Parliament to enshrine them in the Constitution so as to secure a compromise that would allow the electoral law to be changed in time for the 1987 general election to ensure that the party with the most votes would form the government.

Nationalist Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami wanted to strengthen Malta’s relations and military cooperation with the Western military powers, particularly the NATO alliance, despite the country’s constitutional neutrality. In this context, the Maltese government decided to welcome a Royal Navy six-ship Task Group headed by the Flagship HMS Ark Royal into Maltese ports without receiving any guarantees that the aircraft carrier was not carrying nuclear weapons.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici strongly opposed the entry of the Ark Royal into Maltese waters, along with the GWU and a large number of Maltese workers, mainly from the shipyards. The workers organised a number of protests around Malta and physically blockaded the Grand Harbour and the Marsaxlokk Harbour with large vessels and barges. The determined action taken by Maltese workers under the direction of the MLP, led by Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, was successful, and the Ark Royal, having been denied entry into Maltese harbours, had to drop anchor in open sea off the coast of St Paul’s Bay.

Karmenu’s unwavering belief in the potential and loyalty of Maltese workers was evident in the successful blockade of the Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Harbour, preventing the Ark Royal from entering. This action inspired similar protests in other countries, preventing the Ark Royal from entering their ports as well.

Controversies

Workers’ assault on the Archbishop’s Curia

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s political career was also marred by an unfortunate incident that unfairly cast a shadow over his legacy. On 28th September 1984, the Archbishop’s Curia was attacked after a demonstration organised by workers that he had attended. The incident occurred against the backdrop of the Church schools controversy.

This action brought the condemnation of the Labour government. Labour never promoted violence against the Church, even during the Church schools controversy. However, this incident cast a shadow over Mifsud Bonnici’s reputation. It is pertinent to point out that, at the end of the demonstration, Karmenu had encouraged the workers to go back in their workplace and had not incited violence.

The Egyptair airliner hijack

Another occasion that sparked controversy on his watch was the handling of the 1985 hijacking of the EgyptAir airliner. A group of Palestinian militants commandeered the plane and landed it at Luqa Airport with the aim of persuading the Maltese authorities to supply them with fuel. As chief negotiator, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici assumed responsibility and insisted that the Maltese government would not give fuel until all the hostages were freed. Neither party was ready to give up on its demands and consequently negotiations between the Maltese government and the hijackers were not making progress.

In these circumstances, Western military powers started putting pressure on the Maltese authorities to let them intervene. Under intense pressure, the Maltese Prime Minister authorised the intervention of Egyptian military personnel, who had been given specialised training by the United States military unit known as Delta Force. Despite warnings to seek permission from the Maltese government before intervening, Egyptian troops stormed the hijacked EgyptAir plane without authorisation, killing many passengers.

The attack caused the deaths of 60 of the 90 passengers who were on board the plane. Despite Karmenu’s efforts to prevent deaths, the EgyptAir hijacking incident unfairly tarnished his reputation. The EgyptAir hijacking deeply saddened Karmenu, and he would have resigned if not for pressure from the Cabinet.

Violence at Tal-Barrani

Another case that sparked a lot of controversy occurred after the PN opted to proceed with its plans for a mass meeting in the Labour stronghold of Żejtun on 30th November 1986, despite it not being authorised due to concerns about potential violence in the tense political atmosphere that was prevalent at the time. The PN leadership led a crowd of supporters to Żejtun despite the authorities’ decision, sparking violent confrontations at Tal-Barrani Road.

Whether Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was ineffective in operating in the hostile political environment of that time is a matter of debate, but it is clear that addressing political crises maturely requires commitment from all sides. Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici could not single-handedly control the political violence perpetrated by extremists in both parties. To fairly assess his decisions and actions, one must consider the circumstances of that time. A more complete and nuanced understanding of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s life and work is necessary for a fair assessment of his legacy.

A man of principles

While much can be said about Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, his unwavering commitment to his principles, even when others had abandoned them, is undeniable. He was a man of conviction, steadfast in his beliefs and actions.

He was not afraid to take controversial positions, such as his friendship with Arab leaders, his unwavering support for the Palestinian cause, his advocacy for the legalisation of cannabis, and his condemnation of Western military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

In the last chapter of his life, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici took a staunch position against Malta’s membership in the European Union and in favour of maintaining the policy of neutrality and non-alignment. To be able to convey his message better, he co-founded the Campaign for National Independence (CNI) and, together with Dom Mintoff, the Front Maltin Inqumu (FMI).

He believed that Malta’s entry into the EU would undermine the power and supremacy of the national Constitution, leading to the country effectively losing its independence and freedom. He was also convinced that accession would disadvantage Malta because it would have to abide by the decisions of bigger and more powerful Member States even where it was not in its best interests. He also believed that the EU was eroding the sovereignty of its Member States and becoming too militarised through its close ties to NATO. He also saw the EU as a neoliberal union that would threaten socialist economic principles by favouring capitalist measures. In fact, he proposed a motion at an MLP General Conference to prevent the party from taking a position in favour of EU membership, arguing that the EU’s neoliberal ideology was incompatible with the PL’s socialist principles.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici remained a vocal advocate for strengthening Malta’s policy of neutrality and non-alignment. He was highly critical of what he regarded as the Maltese government’s complicity in the military interventions in Iraq and Libya by allowing military ships and aircraft of the aggressors to make use of Maltese territory. He also opposed Malta’s membership in the NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, arguing that it violated Malta’s Constitution. This reflected his deep commitment to Malta’s role as a peacemaker in the Mediterranean, believing that neutrality required Malta to work towards disarmament.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici remained a loyal member of the Labour Party until the end, offering both praise and criticism with the aim of strengthening it and ensuring its continued relevance as a socialist party. He also reminded the Party that its statute clearly states that it embraces democratic socialism, not social democracy.

Feet on the ground

As stated earlier, Karmenu never wanted to be in politics. He was a simple man who enjoyed the simplest things like spending time with his friends, nibbling on sweets, taking long walks, and reading, mostly books on politics and history.

For Karmenu, Dom Mintoff was a mentor and a friend, besides being the man who taught the Maltese people to stand on their own two feet. He visited Mintoff’s residence, l-Għarix, in Delimara, frequently to socialise with friends, usually over lunch or dinner. He remained loyal to Mintoff even in the last years of the latter’s life, when he was isolated. This loyalty is a testament to Mifsud Bonnici’s own character and to the way he led the MLP and the country.

Despite his rise to prominence and his many accomplishments, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici remained humble and level-headed. Unpretentious and down-to-earth, he often broke formal protocols, such as leaving his office as Prime Minister to go home to Ħamrun, even at night, and driving his personal Volkswagen Beetle. He would leave his car keys with the police officer standing guard in front of his residence so that they could stay inside in the heat or cold. If he found the police officer asleep in the car in the morning, he would walk to work in Valletta instead of waking them up. Moreover, he refused his Prime Minister’s salary on multiple occasions, choosing instead to donate it to the needy.

Karmenu was also a passionate lecturer who shared his values and expertise in industrial and fiscal law with his students. A few months before his death, he donated books from his personal collection to the University of Malta, ensuring that the wisdom therein would continue to benefit others.

So many stories about his humanity remain untold. Who knows how many times he visited the elderly and the sick in hospitals and retirement homes? Who knows how many times he helped, financially, people who were struggling to make ends meet? He was a discreet philanthropist, quietly supporting many in Ħamrun and Santa Venera. He even paid for the funerals of those who would have been otherwise unmourned.

Karmenu was also a person of great faith. This was not only the case when he was active in religious associations but throughout his whole life. He remained a devout Catholic throughout his life, regularly attending Mass at the Carmelite Church in Santa Venera in old age. It was undoubtedly his faith, along with his socialist convictions, that motivated him to perform numerous philanthropic acts with utmost discretion.

Since Karmenu was a bachelor, for him sending time with family was very important. He lived in the same house with his siblings throughout his life, and they shared a deep respect for each other that transcended their political differences

Death and legacy

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici left this world at the age of 89 on the 5th November 2022. Even in death, he his humility, having requested a simple funeral without State honours.

When was appointed as Prime Minister after our country had made some of the greatest achievements in its history: Independence in 1964, the proclamation of a Republic in 1974, and the closure of the British military base on Freedom Day in 1979. These achievements heralded the beginning of a new era for Malta; a beginning that was not without challenges and difficulties. Many doubted that Malta could thrive independently and chart its own course.

Karmenu will be remembered as the man who led Malta through some of its most challenging years. He assumed the office of Prime Minister during a time of deep national division and internal challenges within the Labour Party. He also faced an Opposition that refused to engage in dialogue, preferring to adopt a confrontational approach.

Some dismiss Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici as a brief and inconsequential Prime Minister, sandwiched between Dom Mintoff and Eddie Fenech Adami. Others tar him with specific political controversies, which they believe sully his reputation for integrity. At the end of the day, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was an honest, genuine, and humble man of principle and conviction. He put the worker first and himself last.

I am convinced that Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s place in history will be secured, and he will be remembered for the man he was. He will eventually be given the credit he deserves for his many accomplishments for Malta, the Labour Party, and the workers.

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