[WATCH] President credits civil society for role played in 2019 protests that led to change

Xtra Sajf on TVM | President George Vella talks about the political turmoil of 2019, his conscience and how presidential pardons can be a useful tool as long as the system is not abused

President George Vella
President George Vella

President George Vella has given credit to the role played by civil society in bringing about change in 2019 when Joseph Muscat's government faced a massive political crisis.

Vella said that his role in the crisis, which was prompted by Yorgen Fenech's arrest, was to act as a guardian of the Constitution.

Fenech was arrested in November 2019 in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. His arrest and subsequent court revelations that pointed towards connections between Castille and the murder led to massive protests in Valletta.

The turmoil led to Joseph Muscat's resignation in January.

Asked about the political turbulence he had to endure as President so soon into his term in office, Vella said his sole aim was to protect the Constitution.

“What I had in mind, was not the people or the old friendships involved, but the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the country,” Vella said when interviewed on Xtra Sajf on Thursday. “I think I did what was needed within the limits of the Constitution.”

“I have to credit the civil society for the role they played, and the Venice Commission which has identified irregularities, and I have to acknowledge a lot of these changes have been carried out,” he added. “We have to ensure that the tools provided by the Constitution for checks and balances stay sharp enough for the required decisions, at the time when they are needed.”

He insisted that the issue was not that the country did not have regulations, but that enforcement was lacking.

Presidential pardons

Vella has said that he finds nothing wrong with presidential pardons, as long as they system is not abused.

“In principle, if it is the only way to unblock an investigation, I see nothing wrong with it, but on the other hand, you cannot abuse the system, because it would mean that everyone is pardoned, and who is guilty walks free,” Vella said.

He said that before presenting a pardon, Cabinet discusses it with the Attorney General, the Police Commissioner and any relevant parties.

“Obviously, if I know that there was conflicting advice and the pardon was still presented or withdrawn, I am allowed to make further inquiries,” he said.

The President said he receives three to four monthly requests for pardons on minor cases. “I receive requests by people, who for example cannot pay a €3,000 fine, which they feel was not merited, and I would have to consider.”

Asked whether the system should be refined or improved, he said that for the latter cases, it should be abolished completely.

“These cases are assessed through tribunals, and by magistrates, and I do not understand why there should be another authority involved,” he said. “I feel that it's superficial.”

Abortion and conscience

Last May, the President said that he would rather resign, than sign into law a Bill making abortion legal. He reiterated that there are lines which he would not cross.

“While you cannot impose your morals on others, at the same time, you cannot be forced to act against your morals,” he said. “But there will be issues which will crop up as we go along, and you must remain human. You always shoulder the responsibility of the decisions you take, and I am not willing to play with my conscience.”