Why Myriam Spiteri Debono’s appointment bodes well

She did not shy away from prodding the national conscience by saying that generosity should not stop at forking out money for worthy causes but must be displayed in our everyday relations

Myriam Spiteri Debono’s first speech after becoming President of the Republic was bold and refreshing. She displayed self-confidence when touching on several raw nerves and did so with a down to earth approach that can communicate with dignitaries as much as ordinary people. 

People who know Spiteri Debono were not surprised. That first speech was her genuine self – a rough diamond, intelligent, knowledgeable, human, and able to speak truth to power. 

She did not mince her words when talking about the need to transform “passive tolerance” towards immigrants into acceptance and integration. It was a wake-up call for a society that is increasingly viewing immigrants and foreign workers as the root of many evils. 

She was unforgiving when reminding politicians in front of her – particularly the government – that the reforms to protect journalists in the aftermath of the recommendations made by the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry have not yet been enacted. A promised White Paper has not seen the light of day despite the government having been presented with a series of proposals by the Media Experts Committee last summer. Additionally, other recommendations made by the inquiry remain unfulfilled. 

She did not hesitate calling for electoral reform to ensure parliament is more representative of society, in a nod to political parties that have no parliamentary representation. 

She did not shy away from prodding the national conscience by saying that generosity should not stop at forking out money for worthy causes but must be displayed in our everyday relations. 

She reiterated the need for closure on the Caruana Galizia murder, which she likened to an open wound that continues to bleed and warned against having a repeat of the Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana murder cases where closure was never achieved. 

Spiteri Debono’s warning on financial greed, which she likened to “a disease”, was a telling assessment of the economic system that has developed over the years. Greed is a human instinct, which is facilitated in a situation where money and possessions are valued as status symbols. It is not an instinct that can be controlled by laws but the State can do more to ensure greed does not lead to corruption, like the President warned. 

“Greed harms the whole of society,” she said, insisting that good governance should never be side-lined. 

She saluted the media as the fourth pillar of democracy and defended its role as a watchdog on government and the Opposition. Spiteri Debono also felt the need to state the obvious when she said protests are part of the democratic process. It was an indirect jibe towards politicians who sometimes shun protests. 

These were the words of a President, who has no qualms in expressing herself but at the same time fully conscious of her non-executive constitutional role. 

“In the coming five years, I aim to be visible and accessible,” she said. “This does not mean that I shall interfere or have my say on all matters. I shall express myself in the open when I feel that the need arises and the situation so warrants.” 

But there is also Myriam Spiteri Debono’s humanity that could not go unnoticed during the hours-long investiture ceremony. 

She is aware of social problems and this leader believes she will use these five years to exert moral pressure whenever this is required to raise such issues on the national agenda.  

There will be testing times as well. One of the contentious issues that may arise is euthanasia for which the government has an electoral mandate. Whether she will display the moral hang-ups her predecessor had on several issues of an ethical nature still has to be seen but she will undoubtedly face pressure from different facets of society when push comes to shove. We trust that she will listen, absorb, make her own judgement and let the Constitution guide her actions. 

Spiteri Debono’s appointment bodes well and it must be acknowledged that in the end, Robert Abela and Bernard Grech did rise to the occasion in a display of political maturity when agreeing on her nomination. 

The President insisted in her inaugural speech that the two-thirds majority rule introduced in 2020 to appoint the president is not a hindrance because it helps foster compromise and consensus-building. Although this leader has its doubts as to whether it makes sense not having an anti-deadlock mechanism, only time will tell whether the President’s words are a vague wish or a sage reflection. 

This newspaper wishes the President well.