The President of Malta

Diskors mill-E.T. George Vella, President ta’ Malta, fl-Okkażjoni tal-Ftuħ tal-Erbatax-il Parlament, 7 ta’ Mejju 2022, (Diskors bl-Ingliż)

Beginnings always bring a breath of fresh air, enthusiasm, new energy, and hope for the future.

This will be the country’s spirit of leadership in this new legislature.

It is evident that the people of Malta and Gozo continue to be optimistic and wish to remain being so. They believe in the bright future of this country and will not let anything discourage them.

We are inaugurating a new parliamentary legislature after five years that have seen this country thrive within various sectors.

Namely within the economic, social, and civil rights sectors, among others.

However, we cannot forget that this country has experienced its trials and tribulations.

The pandemic was at the forefront of this challenging period, though it was by no means the only challenge.

Historically, our country has always been able to transform challenges into opportunities and it is in this way that we must continue working in the coming years.

This Parliament has resumed at a time when we find ourselves approaching complete normality, and the lives of the people of Malta and Gozo is slowly going back to the way it was.

In recent days, almost all restrictions relating to COVID-19 have been lifted. This has been a relief to many: from businesses to families, young people and, above all, children who cannot and should not miss out on any more of their precious childhood.

This does not mean we should neglect our health or that of those most vulnerable among us. However, while the authorities will continue to provide all that may be required, we must be responsible for our own decisions.

As we move into this new phase, we cannot forget the pressures of the war in Ukraine.

Firstly, we must reaffirm that this is an attack that, as human beings, we cannot but condemn. This highest national institution, in this its very first sitting after the general election, must send a clear signal that what is happening is unacceptable, condemnable, and must be stopped immediately. The only suitable path is one built on dialogue.

Our country is a neutral one. However, neutrality should not mean turning a blind eye to injustice and contemptible behaviour. For this reason, Malta has implemented a number of sanctions, agreed upon within the fora of the European Union, and will continue to play an active role within those fora where such decisions are made. We have provided and will continue to provide humanitarian aid to help the Ukrainian community, citizens who have witnessed and experienced horrors and are suffering the most shameful repercussions of the war. War contributes nothing good or beneficial. We have heard accounts of unspeakable horrors from Ukrainians we have welcomed into our community since the outbreak of the war. Such horrors lead only to devastation, death, cruelty, the loss of people’s homes and the disruption of their entire lives.

Though we are far away, yet we also feel the effects of this war. We can only imagine what those who are right in the centre of it are experiencing.

Local pressures are primarily those relating to economic effects.

However, we must consider our point of departure.

Our economy is steadily recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Last year the country was able to generate more wealth than prior to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the European Union, national wealth remains below the figure recorded in 2019. Other neighbouring Mediterranean countries have at least another year to reach the state we were able to arrive at last year.

Therefore, the pandemic confirmed that our economy is resilient and has the potential to continue achieving positive results that are felt by citizens within each income category.

Success is hard-earned, however. The global situation makes it all the more obvious that at no point should we take our eyes off the effective management of our economy.

The war has given rise to economic challenges with regard to the cost of essentials such as energy, food, and freight transport.

Not only is the Government aware of such challenges, but it is also having ongoing discussions and engaging in continuous action with the objective being to soften the impact on the people of Malta and Gozo.

As it has done throughout the pandemic, the Government will ensure that the people and businesses are supported. It is in the most difficult moments that we ought to be with the people.

There is absolutely no reason to be discouraged.

There is no doubt that Malta has undergone great change, with a rate of economic growth that has allowed the country to invest in effective projects and in bettering citizens’ quality of life.

This economic growth has resulted in low unemployment rates – the lowest in the country’s history. The success of this economic formula is dependent upon the country’s leadership and how it ensures that this wealth is felt and reaches those within society who require it most.

For this reason, our top priority is that income tax will continue to be reduced, refund cheques will be boosted, and the amount of taxable income is also reduced. These are the changes that will make all the difference to those who earn least.

We must recognise the role of enterprise as the impetus for the generation of wealth. The challenge facing us is sustainability, with businesses playing an active role in projects that improve the general quality of life of Maltese and Gozitans alike.

The reduction of tax for businesses should result in a shift towards more sustainable operations, for the generation of more productive work and greater investment in research and innovation. The same is intended for the schemes devised for businesses so that they may make the best use of the profits generated.

By means of various initiatives to generate more economic activity, we will ensure that incentives provided to Gozitan businesses are 10% higher.

At the same time, we must facilitate access to banking services as well as financing. We will continue to bolster the country’s standards so that, following the positive Moneyval report, we will continue to implement the recommendations agreed upon with the Financial Action Task Force, which has already noted the progress Malta has made.

We must continue to boost the country’s credibility so that we may improve our important role within the international fora, wherein we must be proactive in our participation and exploit the strategic potential of our geographical position in the centre of the Mediterranean. We must continue serving as a source of dialogue and a promoter of peace, particularly in our role as interlocutor between Europe and Northern Africa. We must also exploit economic and cultural diplomacy, both of which ought to be sources of wealth for our citizens.

Above all, as a member state of the European Union, we will continue to be proactive in the devising of European politics and legislation within the various sectors of competence of the same Union. This to positively influence the process with a view to making decisions which will consider the realities of a country like ours.

The significant improvements made within the fields of governance within the last two years, thanks also to reforms approved by two-thirds of this House, must now become part of our culture. Whilst acknowledging that no country, sector, or individual is perfect, we will work tirelessly so that Malta will be at the forefront of modern democracies with robust rule of law systems in place.

It is a rule of law that must now see to the reforms required for more modern justice systems, as soon as possible. The administration of effective justice should be a fundamental principle in the world today. We have increased reforms and will continue to do so. However, as with other sectors, we require that the justice system and its operators are more understanding of the realities of those who are brought before them. Justice is blind, but it must be sensible and sensitive to developing social realities.

Governance is another element that is crucial for the economic development of the country. It is also what makes us more attractive to present and future investment within sectors both traditional and new.

An important element in the country’s economic development will be the utilisation of European funds. We ought to utilise in the best possible way the substantial package we have succeeded in negotiating with a view to achieving essential change. This includes the digital core as well as the decarbonisation of the country’s economy.

Gozo, which will be allocated at least 10% of all European funds, is where we will start implementing some of our more ambitious environmental projects, such that we aim for our sister island to be the first to become climate neutral. At the same time, we are committed to maintaining economic growth in Gozo, greater even than that of Malta.

While such environmental and digital transformation is a significant challenge, it also has the potential to become the greatest economic opportunity this generation has seen.

The pandemic has already made evident the importance of the digital economy, which was ongoing throughout the pandemic. This whilst other sectors became idle and were unable to operate. It is crucial that we invest significantly for the country to take the lead within these new sectors. This will require a forward leap in skills and innovation within our education system.

Digitalisation must be robust within the public sector which, in turn, has to ensure that this becomes a tool of improved service for citizens. This so that bureaucracy, which continues to impede the work of the investor in a competitive world where time and efficiency are invaluable, may be reduced.

This commitment by the Government will be evident in a strategic aspect, with the national digital strategy being launched shortly. Past and present investments, nationally or EU funded, also highlight the Government’s commitment.

Indeed, a significant share of EU funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility was allocated to digital aspects.

It goes without saying that all this implies the shouldering of more responsibility. The responsibility to invest in more human resources, to bolster digital structures, and to protect our personal digital information.

This does not mean that traditional sectors will be neglected.

Within the tourism sector, we must implement the strategy that will lead us to 2030 and which will result in success thanks to this economic pillar, one of the hardest hit in the last two years.

We must rediscover our success of recent years, whilst also considering new methods so that the sector may be regenerated. As the strategy goes: Recover. Rethink. Revitalise.

The work of the country within this sector will be grounded in principles of quality, sustainability, tourist experience, efficient connectivity, housing development management, challenges tied to human resources, branding, digitalisation, and significantly, the inclusion of Gozo as a distinct destination. All this sustained with improved connectivity between the two islands.

We must attract the required numbers within the shortest time possible so that touristic activity may return to acceptable levels of operation and profitability.

Nevertheless, in the course of recovery, we will ensure a thought process with a view to strengthening the quality of the tourism product and opening up the sector towards new horizons in the next ten years and beyond.

The term ‘quality of life’ has become a dominant theme in discussions taking place within political spheres and beyond.

While citizens’ material living conditions must be safeguarded, particularly low-income brackets, it would be wise for public discussion to focus on the quality of life of Maltese and Gozitan citizens, and all those who live on our islands. This will also be reflected in the Government’s work.

Our quality of life is our mental and physical health, our environment, working conditions, quality time with family, our homes, the communities we are part of, our security and, above all, how tranquil and peaceful our lives truly are.

Throughout the history of our islands, the people who have lived here have always recognised the importance of living together and improving their future. They recognised that this country is far too small to dismiss compromise and the balance of living together as a community that safeguards all our individual interests.

Aside from speaking of statistics and figures, the time has now come to identify indicators of people’s quality of life, and to ensure that this measurement becomes another primary consideration for all projects or public administration and Government initiatives.

This must start with each and every one of us, and our role within our society – workers, those who choose not to work to look after their families, those who are unable to work because they are their relatives’ carers, those who are self-employed, those working in the business sector, those who are members of this Parliament and the Executive – and, together with them, anyone who has any say in the decision-making in our country.

Our obligation is to safeguard by every means possible the interests of future generations – not merely the interests of those who have not yet been born, but also of those young members of our society who have just started out in the world and merit the finest care and attention that our society has to offer.

The environment is a primary objective for this administration.

Just as previous administrations prioritised infrastructure, the time has now come for the same level of importance to be afforded to environmental projects.

It is not enough to safeguard the country’s natural environment – this is the obligation of all public entities whose decisions may impact the Maltese natural environment.

We must be innovative in the design and construction of new, public, and open spaces in urban areas, and more careful planning is required in order to safeguard the unique characteristics of our cities and towns which are an integral part of our identity and the face of the nation. This administration must be the one to invest most heavily to achieve this aim. For this reason, 700 million euro will be allocated for such projects.

It is easier to speak of sustainability than to implement it. It is this principle that must conduce us to the realisation of the targets of this administration, with a view to reaching our climate neutrality target by 2050.

Now, we must look towards transport. We will continue with great incentives for electric fleets and implementing projects that support alternative transport. We have invested significantly in air quality to eliminate the detrimental effects of energy production. We must now continue asserting the importance of diminishing the negative effects of transport.

This is not merely a target or statistic; rather, it is a means to safeguard our health, air quality, and the environment.

In so doing, we will unite with the rest of the Mediterranean and the international community to combat climate change.

In the coming years, we must change fundamentally the way we operate as a society. That which we call waste, we must start viewing as a resource, as a source of alternative energy, among others.

We must dispense once and for all with the notion that environmental investment has no economic return. If we do not take the necessary steps to safeguard the environment, our economy cannot continue to thrive.

The Government will support these changes. A cultural shift will be required, however. We must understand that if we truly have our children’s best interests at heart, the time has come to take decisive action to conserve the environment. We cannot allow ourselves to be passive and wait for other people to make important decisions that could affect us. This new priority must be reflected in the decisions we make for ourselves as Maltese citizens, young and old. The Government will continue incentivising decisions in favour of the environment.

For several years, we have regarded agricultural land as another aspect of our environmental projects and, indeed, it is. Not until now, however, have we fully understood the need not only to salvage the land itself but also the work of Maltese farmers, a secure source of food provision. Therefore, we must, as a rule, further promote the consumption of local produce whilst providing producers with modern infrastructure and opportunities, not merely farmers but also fishermen, given that the sea is another food source.

Our sea is yet another source of great wealth. Investment in the maritime sector will help exploit our potential within this sector whilst minimising impact through ‘shore to ship’ projects, the fruits of which we will begin to benefit from in this legislature.

This new administration has ambitious targets for our children. It guarantees access, for all children, to education as it is developing in our time, in a world where technology has become the primary tool within core subjects such as languages, mathematics, and the sciences.

It guarantees reaching all children as early as possible. That which children do not achieve within the early years of education – primary education – will be significantly more difficult to compensate for in the years that follow and in secondary school.

It is for this reason we must work tirelessly to ensure that every child is successful in the early years of their education – primary education – and ensure that this is truly a solid foundation for all children, together with all the necessary tools, so that when they reach secondary education they are able to make important decisions that impact the rest of their educational journey.

It guarantees that all children, regardless of household income, will have access to extracurricular activities such as the arts, sports, and culture, all of which are integral to their development, to keep them active and healthy, keep them away from vices, and instil in them values that shape our society.

Books and reading are essential ingredients that provide our country with educated, informed, and freethinking citizens.

Regardless of the passage of time and increasing technological development, books will remain a source of valid, relevant, and useful wisdom to our citizens so that we may shape a society that understands, appreciates, and recognises that we are citizens of a world far greater than our country’s horizons. This so that we may better understand the circumstances that shape us, the developments occurring beyond these shores, and, in spite of our size, the need to tackle the challenges facing the country. It is for these reasons that we are investing, so that our children will have wider access from early childhood.

Our children’s quality of life is dependent upon the health of our families. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our children spend as much time as possible with their parents, and that no legal hurdle is used to keep children away from one, or both, of their parents.

We must also ensure that parents, most of whom are working parents, benefit from working conditions that allow them to be with their children, both in significant moments and delicate situations in their lives.

We firmly believe in the active involvement of both parents in their children’s upbringing. We must look to extend paternal leave from two days to ten.

In this way, in joyous or delicate moments, fathers or an equivalent second parent, will be able to spend more time with their newborn and will be able to provide support to both mother and child throughout that most delicate period.

This leave period also applies in the case of adoption, and regardless of the family’s civil status.

Once again, we give our word that we will support families in their hour of need.

We are also introducing carer’s leave so that, in case of ill health, the affected party will be able to take five days’ leave to look after children or relatives living in the same household.

We will continue to discuss with social partners to guarantee the best working conditions, including the introduction of parental leave and the right to disconnect.

Above all, we must safeguard children and adolescents from modern dangers, namely cyberbullying, and ensure that they are judicious in their use of social media and the various other devices at their disposal.

This country is famed for the wisdom, resilience, and industriousness of its workers. It is the country’s greatest resource. We must sustain the savings culture Malta has always boasted as another means by which to strengthen our families. The Government plans to boost public reserve funds for emergency situations through various methods. In the same way, we must encourage families to save more, to be careful and shrewd with their income, and plan ahead to secure the best possible future for themselves – particularly when they reach retirement age – and their children.

We want our children to be healthy. For this reason, this administration is committed to identifying physical, intellectual, social, and educational challenges as early as possible. This is not only applicable to children but also to every segment of society, to each and every one of us as we face various mental health challenges throughout our lives. Only when the stigma surrounding mental health is broken once and for all can we say that society supports those who need it, and only when the challenges of mental health are addressed in the same way as any other health problem for which we do not hesitate to seek help from our doctors.

The coming years will be crucial for our country to reach the pinnacle of free specialist services within the mental health sector, projects that go beyond anything that has been done until now, and that will reach anyone who requires the service.

Just as we have poured attention and energy into fighting the pandemic over the last two years, we must be equally committed to tackling this reality of our society today.

In the last years, we have reached record investment within the social sectors. The country has invested a record amount whilst minimising social dependency.

The Government must continue to support its social programme and revise it if necessary.

The figures of material and social deprivation show that these have remained stable and at low levels despite the pandemic and its impact. This after a substantial reduction, after several years, in the number of people in such situations.

The government remains committed to supporting everyone, particularly vulnerable groups.

We must continue to boost pensions together with services for the elderly to devise a policy that incentivises the elderly to continue living in our community.

Affordable social housing is another important element of the country’s social programme. For this reason, we must finish the largest construction project of social housing amounting to 1,700 new units. All this whilst maintaining existing schemes, extending them, and devising new initiatives.

We believe investment within the cultural sector is crucial not only for those working within the sector, whose creativity is vital to our country, but also for our identity and our social and cultural lives.

We want culture also to make a quick recovery and reach newer heights than before.

The Government’s target is clear: that more people and more communities are exposed to culture of the highest level.

Culture is the workplace of an ever-growing number of people who work within the creative economy. The Government will be investing in them with the allocation of more funds and fiscal incentives.

We will continue to boost the quality of the country’s cultural ecosystem. We will complete the Malta International Contemporary Art Space in Floriana which will be a leading platform in Malta for the visual arts, among others.

Moreover, given the general consensus on the roofing of the Teatru Rjal which will better serve the needs of artists and contemporary creatives, we will ensure the necessary preparations are made so that the theatre is given a new purpose as a prominent, all-year cultural centre in Valletta.

Our identity is also boosted by preserving the main cultural traditions and our heritage. Throughout this legislature, we will provide unprecedented aid to Maltese musical societies and the various other aspects of the Maltese village feast.

Amongst the projects that will be completed are the Grandmaster’s Palace and the Notarial Archives.

It would also be wise to give sports, which is essential to a healthy life, the importance it deserves. The time has come to aim higher in this area as well. Ahead of us are important occasions to showcase the ability of Maltese athletes. The invitational games of the Special Olympics, taking place in the coming days, will be a marvellous occasion and an opportunity to put Malta on the map of international sports and inclusivity. We must also mention the Games of the Small States of Europe coming to Malta in 2023 and the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, in preparation for which we need to invest in our young athletes so that they are given the best opportunity to compete successfully.

Above all, we want social equality. This is a country boasting first place in civil rights. This cannot mean, however, that our work in favour of equality may stop at any given time.

Amongst our top priorities are those who would like to see us give a better chance to couples struggling to have children. For this reason, a number of law amendments regulating IVF in Malta will be proposed with a view to giving greater hope to prospective parents. To facilitate the process, the amendments will be supplemented with the necessary investment.

This is because equality on every level is one of the values that must continue to distinguish our country. It is gratifying that this legislature has begun with a more equal parliament, where female representation is stronger. This principle must be transferred to other areas, including the workplace, and particularly in boardrooms where decisions are made. We plan to develop incentives to support this.

In the next five years, we want to start building a better, fairer, more dynamic, and sustainable Malta. The new prosperity we are aspiring to may seem unattainable to some.

There are people who will say that after the pandemic we are not strong enough to make all these changes. That during a war we cannot achieve economic decarbonisation.

This is certainly not the moment to postpone reforms and changes. Rather, we ought to learn from the pandemic.

It is countries like Malta, that made great reforms before the pandemic, that have found themselves in a position to react and offset the impact of the pandemic.

Therefore, every challenge must lead to the accomplishment of greater and braver changes. It is only in renewing ourselves that the country can be successful.

Together we have the potential not only to fulfil all our aspirations, but also to continue raising the level of what we can achieve.

Our country and its people have a bright future if we recognise the importance of working for it. It all depends on us.

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