[WATCH] President’s final Republic Day speech: ‘No full democracy if we do not respect human dignity'

Long live the Republic – Marie Louise Coleiro Preca intones her final salute during the nation’s most important speech of the year

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca

Malta’s ninth President of the Republic gave her final Republic Day speech today, in an address that sealed her legacy as the head of state who placed social justice and workers – be they Maltese or not – at the heart of the Maltese presidency.

A former Labour social policy minister who was appointed to her role in 2014, made her imploration to citizens, workers and business owners to leave nobody behind, and stay united in a country in which “nobody is made to suffer or to feel excluded.”

She will leave the presidency in April, with her speech today already representative of a legacy that delighted Maltese citizens with her attention to people and readiness to be close to the emarginated of Maltese society; in some cases she was criticised, for having knowingly ignored the ceremonial hauteur of the Presidency, something she was keen to remark on: “My gratitude also goes to those among us who have criticised me, perhaps at times in haste and with lack of forethought, because I have learnt from the experience.”

Her speech just days away from the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Coleiro Preca set much store by the historic treaty of 1948 in an appeal to Maltese citizens to welcome migrant workers with dignity.

“I believe that the Universal Declaration, alongside our Constitution, must always be the cornerstone of the ways in which we live together, and how we treat one another…

“For this reason, we must insist that the rights of visitors and newcomers to our islands, including migrants, must be upheld in their fullness, without complacency or favouritism.”

She was categorical about Malta not being ready to achieve the fullness of democracy if it tolerated the injustices that so many different members of society could be likely to endure: from early school-leavers, to victims of trafficking, to those living in poverty, to discriminated women, to the weak representation of women MPs, and even where clientelism triumphs over meritocracy.

“If these injustices persist then we will not be enjoying the fullness of our democracy and the safeguarding of our human dignity... Furthermore, no economy can celebrate human dignity, unless the needs of the most vulnerable are kept at the heart of its operations,” Coleiro Preca said in an undeniable statement on the breakneck speed of Malta’s economy.

'An economy that truly upholds human dignity is one which ensures that nobody is pushed to the peripheries of our society. Without social justice, I am convinced that there cannot be the fullness of democracy and long-lasting peace.'
'An economy that truly upholds human dignity is one which ensures that nobody is pushed to the peripheries of our society. Without social justice, I am convinced that there cannot be the fullness of democracy and long-lasting peace.'

In a rejoinder to Malta’s post-war history and the setting up of its national health service and welfare system, Coleiro Preca reminded leaders of the protection this had endowed so many thousands of Maltese and Gozitan citizens from the threat of poverty and social exclusion.

“I appeal for this social welfare system to remain a priority, above and beyond the pursuit of economic advances. The past has shown us that, even in the absence of economic abundance, it is possible to protect those of us who are most in need, because this is the right thing to do.”

And then she turned to Labour’s leaders, but also those who support its economic policy, by urging them to develop “a culture of permanent social solidarity” during this time of unprecedented growth.

The warning against worshipping at the altar of economic growth seemed to be also present in her warning on the forthcoming European elections.

“When governments abandon the social contract in favour of excessive private accumulation of profit… People not only lose hope in the established political class, but also, they seek reassurance in populist ideologies.”

Placing her finger on the source of discontentedness across Europe, she said leaders would be powerless to urge people to disregard populist forces when millions were living in deprivation or feeling irrelevant. “When ‘social Europe’ is becoming more of an ‘economic Europe’, it is unacceptable that 1 in 4 Europeans is living in poverty, and is thereby excluded from the services that used to make Europe so proud.

Again, she punctured the establishment’s abandon to the great white hope of Artificial Intelligence and digital technology by warning its effects on democracy – a reminder of the Cambridge Analytica scandal: “It is essential for us to ensure that our democracy is not manipulated, from behind the scenes, by corporations that transform the intimate details of our lives into a commercial product. A manipulated democracy is false and dangerous, because it distinguishes between a superior class with knowledge at its disposal, and a sub-class that carries on a lower quality of life, because it lacks the necessary knowledge.”

While welcoming a steering committee on constitutional reform and the appointment of a parliamentary standards czar, Coleiro Preca made an important statement on the abuse of freedom of expression and social media.

“Today, anyone can presume to be some kind of journalist, by passing on his or her views through modern means of communication. Unfortunately, some individuals abuse these means of communication, without taking into account the consequences of their actions. The media, therefore, shoulders a higher responsibility to report the truth.

“Fake news has become the order of the day, with the risk that people will believe it and be alienated from the truth. I therefore urge those who use social media, to be respectful in the way they communicate their diverse views.”

She also called on those in public life to be measured and respectful and set a good example when communicating, while encouraging journalists to maintain the highest levels of journalistic ethics and “overcome the challenges being posed by sensationalism, prejudice, half-truths, and outright lies.”

Coleiro Preca ran the gamut of subjects that have characterised 2018 in Malta: children, migrants, housing, poverty, property prices, the environment, the elderly, as well as teachers, where she implored leaders to ensure that educators receive the best resources.

She also spoke of her serious concern that the more education a woman acquires, the greater the gender pay gap and the disparity in income. “It is my hope that in the years to come, through affirmative action, this gap will not only close in terms of pay, but we will also see a greater presence of women in positions of leadership in our country.”

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