MOTION ABOUT THE APPOINTMENT OF THE PRESIDENT OF MALTA
THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Prime Minister.
THE HON. JOSEPH MUSCAT: Mr Chairman, I propose that:
Whereas in accordance with the provision of subsection (1) of Article 48 of the Constitution of Malta there shall be a President of Malta who shall be appointed by Resolution of the House of Representatives;
And also in accordance with subsection (3) of the same Article in the Constitution, the Office of President of Malta shall become vacant on 4 April, 2014;
Hence the House or Representatives by virtue and for the purposes of the mentioned Article 48 of the Constitution of Malta resolves to appoint Mrs Marie Louise Coleiro Preca President of Malta.
THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: Who seconds it?
THE HON. SIMON BUSUTTIL: I second it.
THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: Any remarks? The Prime Minister.
THE HON. JOSEPH MUSCAT: Mr Chairman, I believe that today we are at a critical historic moment for various reasons. Let me start with the most obvious one for many people, that is, the fact that Parliament for the third time in its history will be voting unanimously in favour of the appointment of the President of the Republic. I would therefore like to thank the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition for this. I understand that it was not easy, more so because the person nominated is from this side of the House of Representatives. However, inspite of critisising each other, sometimes mercilessly, I am the first one to encourage such a move. (Hon. Members: Hear, hear)
I believe that today we are seeing a very strong sign. However, I must say that Mrs Marie Louise Coleiro deserves this unanimous vote. I believe that in five years time, I will once again be here, and the same as we are doing today, that is praising the work of George Abela during the past five years, we will be praising the work possibly without precedent that she would have done.
I believe that the nomination of Marie Louise – allow me to refer to her by name throughout this speech, rather than being formal in using her surname – is a strong sign of change in our country. I believe that the time has come – especially at this historic moment when our country is celebrating 35 years since Freedom Day, ten years since our accession to the European Union, the 40th anniversary from when Malta became a Republic and 50 years since Malta gained its Indipendence, which is an extremely important historic milestone – during which our country showed its capability of nominating a person who is different from her predecessors. First of all she is a woman, and with the exception of the Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed in 1996, it has been 32 years since one of the four or five highest Constitutional posts of our country has been occupied by a woman.
I think it is time that this Parliament appoints a woman in the highest office of the state, and I am very pleased that this is not only the Government’s choice but is the Parliament’s choice. Some of you might be asking: Is this symbolic? Is it tokenism? No, it is neither symbolic nor tokenism, it is recognition, and at a time when we still have not broken the glass ceiling in politics, business and public life, the appointment of a female President will no doubt be an inspiration to all Maltese and Gozitan young women who will see Marie Louise as a role model.
This appointment is not only different because Marie Louise is a woman, but because she is a woman who has made very clear choices. Let’s start with politics. Our friend who has now resigned from this House of Representatives got into politics during difficult times. She was the first female Secretary General of a political party in Malta. At that time there was a lot of political tension in our country, many men were scared to participate, but this young lady was not. She took on a somewhat burdensome role, and as she told me herself, lived through some of the saddest moments of our country’s political history. This is not simply because she is a woman, but because she is a woman who has been involved in politics for a very long time, not as a token with a role in the decision making during some of the most difficult times in our recent political history.
Marie Louise is not only a mother, but is a mother who made her own decisions. First she had her daughter and then got married. You might say: What has this got to do with it? To me this says something. She has sent a strong message to society, of a woman who is ready to make her own decisions, proving that there are no family stereotypes. We have to acknowledge that our society is not a fairytale where you have the father, the mother, who then have children. In our society we have different family models. I believe that Marie Louise’s personal experience enriches her and I think that this is where her social committment stems from, in my opinion it is part of her soul.
Mr. Chairman, in my opinion this Presidency has the clear aim of being not only the moral guide of the Government and the House of Representatives, but of the country as a whole. The word “morals” is confused with religion, but it does not have a religious monopoly. We use the word “morals” in the sense of all that needs to be done, in the sense that our conscience pricks us as a country and makes us aware of certain issues.
During the six years that I have worked closely with Marie Louise in the parliamentary group and more so during this year when I worked with her as a Member of my Cabinet, she has always been very genuine and ready to be truthful in any situation however uncomfortable. She speaks for the minortiy and those who have no voice. Everyone knows that we have not always agreed on everything, and I must say that at times we even found ourselves on opposite poles. Having said that, you always know where youstand with her, she plays fair and has very high democratic credentials. I am therefore proud to put forward this nomination and believe that with the tools we will give her, Marie Louise will impliment major changes in the way our society operates.
The Leader of the Opposition acknowledged Mrs Margaret Abela. It was an oversight on my part that I did not acknowledge her before, but I do so now and I also acknowledge Mr Edgar Preca, Marie Louise’s husband. This role is going to be a first, since we have never been in a position where we had the husband of the President of Malta. I think this is going to be a big challenge and he will need a lot of support. I do not doubt his capabilities and know for a fact that he was a catalyst in Marie Louise’s decision to become President of the Republic. I wholeheartedly thank him.
Let me conclude my speech as the leader of the Labour Party. The Party has lost a pilar. The Governmet has lost one of its best Ministers and vote magnet! An Nationalist Minister once told me that Marie Louise Coleiro Preca is a walking social service department because she knows the social services sector inside out, and without refering to any document she can tell you exactly what is happening. We lost a person who was there in time of need and who always gave without expecting anything in return. However, inspite of all these losses, I think that our citizens have gained someone who I humbly state will be one of the best Presidents that our Republic ever had. Thank you. (Hon. Members: Hear, hear)
THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you. The Leader of the Opposition.
THE HON. SIMON BUSUTTIL: Mr Chairman, whoever believes that the President of the Republic is and should be a symbol of national unity, should contribute to ensure that the President truly is a symbol of this unity. The Opposition is going to vote in favour of the appointment of Marie Louise Coleiro Preca as President of the Republic because we want to play our part so that this Presidency will truly belong to all the people of Malta and Gozo and not only to some people. Untill today, for us, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was a member of the Labour Party and of the Labour Government, a political adversary. However, as from today she is going to be our President. (Hon. Members: Hear, hear)
There is no doubt that Marie Louise is going to rise to the occasion and honour her position as is expected of her. We will give her every opportunity to do this and we want to strengthen the vote by giving our support. This vote will naturally place a lot of responsibility on her and she has to repay this confidence during her Presidency, but I am confident that she is capable of this.
Mr Chairman, although the Opposition is going to vote in favour, I cannot but mention how the Government arrived at this appointment. We do not believe it was the right way. This nomination was not built on the positive experience brought about by the Presidency of George Abela who was nominated by the Nationalist Government even though he came from the Labour political sphere. This is a lost opportunity. Apart from this, in our opinion, there was, in my opinion, a very serious lack of respect by the Goverment towards the Opposition, in the way the nomination was made. Not only did the Prime Minister not consult with me, as one would expect him to do, but he only informed me after everyone had already known about this nomination. Ths is not the way things are done and the Opposition expects respect from the Government. This definitely is not a new style of politics or if it is, it is surely not a better style. It goes directly against the President’s Speech at the beginning of this legislature:
“We have started a new chapter in the history of our people. The days of rivalry, partisanship, arrogance, at all levels of leadership, must become something of the past. This is going to be a forward looking Government which will build a future, and which will not copy the past. This is going to be a Government which will be exemplary and ready to take decisions”.
I leave it up to the people who are listening to judge if these words are actually turned into action! The Opposition is responding through signs of maturity and unity.
We are more than willing to do this gesture of goodwill since the Government has not done so. This is what a constructive Opposition should be like, we should not only be constructive using words, but through our actions. This same positive Opposition who is actively positive. And I want to make myself clear that in future, the Opposition is expecting the Government to work together with us with respect, and if it is wants our support it has to work for it and not take it for granted.
Mr. Chairman, now I am going to say something about the new functions which the Prime Minister declared are going to be passed on to the President on the same day he announced her nomination. The Opposition believes that the role of the Presidency should not be changed or redefined by the Prime Minister. The President’s role is defined in the Constitution, and the Constitution can only be changed by Parliament and not by the Prime Minister. Apart from this, the President symbolises the Maltese State, it is a guarantee of respect towards the Constitution and the separation of power – executive, legislative and judicial. The President is the guarantee of checks and balances of everyone in power. Therefore, any new power which is passed on to the President should be enshrined by this House of Representatives and not passed on by the Government. We should not put this role at risk.
The Opposition believes that the role of the President should not be changed without the consent of this House of Representative and without any doubt the position of the President of the Republic should be free from any executive powers and anything of a partisan nature which bring about functions which are or which resemble an executive role. Hence the Opposition does not agree with the new functions which the Prime Minister announced that the President should have when he announced the nomination. We believe that any change in the role and functions of the President – and we are open to change – should be made after a process of Constitutional change. (Hon. Members: Hear, hear)
I would like to conclude by stating that the Opposition is going to vote in favour of this nominaton. This is the first Opposition in the history of our country who is voting in favour of the nomination of a President coming from the opposing political sphere. In this sense, the Opposition wants to be exemplary in national unity, and our jest of going beyond political partisanship is done wholeheartedly and with authenticity, and we are proud of this. All the members of the Opposition are unanimously uniting behind our new President, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca. While we wish her success, we pledge that we will give her our full support to help her fullfil her role to her best ability and to keep on strengthening unity among the citizens of Malta and Gozo, as a person occupying the highest position in a country, a role which is a symbol of national unity.
On behalf of the Opposition I would like to congratulate Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and also her husband, Edgar Preca, and wish them all the best. Thank you. (Hon. Members: Hear, hear)
THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you. Any other remarks? (Hon. Members: No) The question is the motion as submitted and read by the Prime Minister. Those in favour? (Hon. Members: Aye) Those against? Agreed.
The motion passed nem. con.
THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: According to an agreement reached in the Standing Committee about the Work of the House of Representtive of 11 March 2014, the sitting is going to be immediately adjourned. I therefore call on Minister Joe Mizzi, to please, give an update of the House of Representatives.