Vella outlines Abela priorities in road to climate neutrality and equality

President of the Republic George Vella addresses opening of the 14th legislature

President George Vella (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
President George Vella (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Malta’s President of the Republic officially inaugurated the country’s 14th legislature since 1964, as incumbent and new MPs took their seats today.

George Vella addressed the House, which also welcomed 12 additional female MPs co-opted under a gender quota system, with the Abela administration’s priorities for the forthcoming five years spelt out.

Among these priorities will be new amendments to Malta’s rules for in vitro fertilisation, Vella said, in a bid to offer more hope for prospective parents seeking assisted reproduction.

It now marks 10 years since Malta last banned embryo freezing under a previous Nationalist administration, with new rules expanding the service for all women irrespective of status or sexual orientation.

“Above all we want an equal society,” Vella told MPs. “Among these main priorities will be giving more families a greater chance to become parents. A number of amendments will be tabled to the laws governing IVF to offer greater hope to the most prospective parents. The amendments would be complemented by the investment needed to enable the process to take place.

“Equality at every level is one of the values that must distinguish us as a country,” Vella said, now turning to Malta’s parliamentary quotas for the under-represented. Gender.

“We are starting this legislature with a more equal parliament, with stronger female representation. We must take this principle into workplaces, particularly in decision-making boards, with a number of incentives.”

Russian invasion

With Ukrainian president Volydymyr Zelenskyy now scheduled to address the new House on Tuesday 10 May, Vella reminded MPs that Malta’s neutrality should not close their eyes in the face of injustice and deplorable actions.

“The pressures brought about by the war in Ukraine are not diminishing at all. First of all, we must reaffirm that this is an attack which cannot but be condemned... that is why Malta implemented a number of sanctions agreed in EU fora.

“We gave and will continue to provide humanitarian aid to help Ukrainian citizens. We continue to hear stories of destruction, death, cruelty, and of the loss of their homes and everything they built in their lives.

“We who are so far away also feel the effects of this war. Imagine what those who are in the middle of it feel,” Vella said.

The President said Malta too was feeling the pressures of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

“We have an economy that is recovering strongly from the effects of the pandemic. Last year our country created more wealth than we had created before the pandemic.... But success does not come from nothing. What is happening in the world now makes it all the more important not to lose sight at any time of the effective management of our economy.

“The war is impacting on the prices of essential goods such as energy, food and freight. Government is not only aware of these challenges but is constantly pursuing discussions to counter this impact. As it did during the pandemic, the government will ensure that it supports people and businesses.”

Redistribution of income

Vella toasted Malta’s rate of economic growth and Malta’s record lows of unemployment, but said the success of Malta’s economic formula will always depend on the extent of the redistribution of wealth.

Malta will be seeing yet another decreasein the rates of income tax, tax refunds, but also placing new obligations for sustainable business practices.

“Reducing tax on business should lead to a shift towards more sustainable operations, more productive job creation, and greater investment in research and innovation.”

Vella also said the Labour administration will strengthen the country’s standards following a positive report from the Counci of Europe’s Moneyval, and to implement the recommendations agreed with the Financial Action Task Force in a bid to take Malta out of the FATF greylist.

Vella also said Malta’s would continue to register improvements in the areas of governance, also tied to its recent FATF backslide.

“No country or individual is perfect, but we can strive for Malta to be at the forefront of modern democracies, with strong systems of rule of law. This requires reforms to have more modern judicial processes, because the administration of effective justice must be a basic principle in today’s world.

“We will continue to step up reforms, but as in other sectors, we want the justice system to be oriented in a way that better understands the realities of those facing its practitioners and those who mete it out. Justice is blind, but it must be sensible and sensitive to developing social realities.”

Digital transition, environmental sustainability, climate-neutral Gozo

An important element in the economic development of Malta will be the use of EU funds that will aid the island’s digital transition and the decarbonisation of the country’s economy.

“Gozo, where we will guarantee that at least 10% of all European funds are allocated, will be the place where we run amongst the most ambitious of environmental projects. So much so that we aim that this island will be the first part of the country to become climate neutral.

“While these environmental and digital transformations are substantial challenges, they have the potential to be the best economic opportunities we have ever had in this generation.”

Vella said the pandemic had revealed the importance of the digital economy, and said Malta had to invest heavily to become a leader in such new sectors.

“This will require a leap forward in skills and innovation in our education system. Digitalisation must be strong in the public sector, which must ensure it is a tool to deliver a better service to the citizen, to cut down on red tape.”

Quality of life and environment

Vella said that while it was important to safeguard the material livelihood of citizens, especially those in the low-income bands, the Labour administration would be focused on quality of life in terms of health, the environment, work-life balance, and security.

“It is time for, apart from speaking on statistics and numbers, that we have indicators on people’s quality of life and that this measure will be another key consideration in every project or initiative of the public administration and the government.

“Our obligation is to safeguard the interests of future generations – not only of those who are yet to be born, but of those young among us who are starting out in the world and deserve the best care and attention that our society must offer.”

Vella said the administration would treat the environment as a key objective, with the same emphasis that previous administrations had given to the country’s infrastructure.

“It is not enough to protect the natural environment that our country has – this is an obligation that all those in public entities have through decisions that can affect the state of the Maltese natural environment.

“But we need to be innovative when it comes to new public and open spaces in urban areas – and plan more carefully to safeguard the unique characteristics of our towns and cities, an important part of our identity and the face of our nation. It must be the main administration to invest for this purpose. Therefore €700 million will be allocated to these projects.”

Vella also said reaching climate neutrality by 2050 will require an electric transport fleet, alternative transport modes, but also to fundamentally change the treatment of waste and to turn it into an alternative source of energy.

“The reality is that if our environment is not cared for, our economy cannot continue to deliver.

“The government will be there to sustain these changes. But we will also need a change in our culture. We must understand that if we really care for our children, it is now time to take decisive action in favour of the environment. Not only do we expect others to take decisions for us, but we reflect this new priority in the decisions we take every day as citizens, from the small to the big ones. Government will continue to incentivise environmentally friendly choices.”

Social measures

Vella said the Abela administration will also pledge an increase in leave for carers, the introduction of parental leave and the right to disconnect, as well as the need to fight cyberbullying.

“We need to protect children and adolescents from the dangers of modern times, including cyberbullying, and ensure that they know how to make smart use of social media and the various technological means available to them…

“We need to see our children healthy, and for this reason it is important this administration’s commitment to identify physical, intellectual, social and educational challenges as early as possible. This applies not only to children but to every band of our society, every one of us who throughout their life faces different mental health challenges.

“We can say that society supports everyone in need, when we break the stigma attached to mental health once and for all. When mental health challenges are addressed as much as any other health problem, on which we do not think twice to seek help from our doctors.

The coming years will be crucial for our country to reach the fullness of the specialised and free services in the mental health sector, projects that go beyond what we have ever had to date, reaching out to all those who need it.”