[WATCH] George Vella wants more control over presidential charity's funds

In a wide-ranging interview on Xtra, President George Vella called for more control over the way funds are collected and distributed by the Malta Community Chest Fund

President George Vella on Xtra
President George Vella on Xtra

The Malta Community Chest Fund (MCCF) is dealing with a bottomless pit of problems and requires more control in the collection and allocation of funds, President George Vella has said.

“I’m not saying there aren’t any problems. Today, you have a bottomless pit of issues, but money doesn’t grow on trees either and there needs to be some means testing, some proper control on how funds are collected and distributed,” he said.

Vella was speaking on TVM’s Xtra, where he argued that the MCCF’s broad scope required it to collect some €1.2 million in funds every month.

“What is sacred to me, what I think is important, is the oncology department and oncology treatments at Mater Dei. I have convinced the government to take on the responsibility of providing one type of medication itself. This medication will be used for cancer treatment, 50 patients will make use of it and it will cost government €3 million a year,” he said.

He added that people were not aware of the charity’s expenses and viewed events like L-Istrina, the post-Christmas fundraising event, as the be-all and end-all of charities that allow it to cater for all issues.

“People impress themselves with the massive cheques at the end of the year but these alone are not enough. One needs to see how there will be continuous contributions throughout the year to help people who constantly need attention. The government can take responsibility for procurement to lift some responsibilities off the MCCF’s shoulders,” Vella said.

Cannabis and abortion

The president was also skeptical about the recreational use of cannabis, noting that if authoritative publications like The Lancet had reservations on the subject, then the issue needed to be approached with due caution.

“Experts say this substance might contribute to permanent damage to pathways in the brain. If we are campaigning against the evils of alcohol and the evils of smoking, we must also pay attention to the cons of cannabis use and to expert studies. If we are damaging ourselves with alcohol and smoking, then how do we legalise cannabis?” he said.

Vella recounted the personal experience of encountering a patient who sustained permanent brain damage after using cocaine on just one occasion.

With regards to abortion, Vella suggested that he was not against discussing the issue, adding that there was nothing inherently wrong with having a back and forth discussion on the matter, but he insisted that he would never agree to its legalisation.

“I made it clear that if a bill in parliament that aims to legalise abortion is tabled, I will have no choice but to resign and go home,” Vella said.

‘Enough bickering: Malta needs to mature’

President Vella said that with such a strong economy in the country, he would expect both major parties to work together rather than bicker and hurt Malta’s reputation in the process.

“Malta is enjoying a strong economy right now. Why are we fighting against each other? We need to mature. Let’s discuss but then let’s also have a drink together,” he said.

He added that social media was certainly not beneficial in this regard and that, in his opinion, it had proved more detrimental than rewarding.

“Social media has done a lot of damage lately,” Vella said. “Instead of uniting, it has created further friction. On Facebook, sure, everyone has a right to write about anything but not everyone is qualified to write about anything.”

He added that he had a good relationship with Opposition Leader Adrian Delia and a strong relationship with some PN MPs, but not all. He also spoke well of Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, who he described as charismatic and easy to speak to.

“When I was in opposition, I referred to then prime minister Lawrence Gonzi as my prime minister when abroad. When you speak abroad, you should always speak in the best interests of the country. We need to give foreigners the impression that we are united and this should come naturally,” he said.

Vella said that Malta was, in his experience, a well-respected country abroad and that it had a strong track record in the United Nations, the Council of Europe and pretty much everywhere else.

“Yes, there should be criticism, but this has to be just and, lately, certain statements weren’t so and damaged Malta’s reputation,” he said.

Before speaking about possible constitutional amendments he suggested that parliament now needs full-timers since politics is not as localised as it was in his time. He said that the variety of issues and topics that needed to be studied and understood by MPs today was far greater than it was in the past.

Vella said that an online platform was being designed and would soon be launched in order to allow the public to contribute with their ideas on what aspects of the constitution they feel need changing.

“The website will be up for three months and will invite everyone to share opinions. We need to see what the majority pays most importance to and we will move on to a constitutional convention from there,” he said.