The Malta Independent 13 November 2018, Tuesday

Lawrence Gonzi, cum laude

Gejtu Vella Tuesday, 23 July 2013, 08:10 Last update: about 6 years ago

The day after Dr Lawrence Gonzi handed his resignation from Parliament, the leader of the General Workers Union’s daily, L-Orizzont, launched an unwarranted and scathing personal attack.   It was in bad taste; a nauseating leading article which failed to score any favourable points neither to its owner nor to its tacit political partner. If anything, it revived many ill memories which the bond between the GWU and the Labour Party had foisted on people.   

In the opinion of many, including mine, Lawrence Gonzi, former Prime Minister and Leader of the PN, served the nation with dignity, loyalty and honesty.  He laboured and strived to improve the quality of life of people, facilitated and encouraged local entrepreneurs and worked hard to attract foreign direct investment.  Creating the highest number of productive employment opportunities was one of Dr Gonzi’s major achievements.  He reinforced the social benefits safety net, placed education at the very top of the national agenda and invested heavily in the health sector.  Without doubt, he made some erroneous judgements, as he himself has admitted.  Human nature being what it is, with the benefit of hindsight, many - whether in public life or in their personal affairs – would, on reflection, do some things differently. When one ponders on the past, either in the early morning over a cup of coffee or late in the evening enjoying a shot of whisky, many would realise that other options for past decisions taken might have been more suitable. In this regard, Dr Gonzi is not any different except that he was up-right enough to publicly take full responsibility for all decisions.  Others try to sweep their failures and shortcomings under the carpet.

For the rest of this article I am taking the liberty to refer to Dr Gonzi by his first name.  Some may find it difficult to believe that Lawrence and I crossed swords and also had some heated arguments over the implementation of certain policies.  I have never been a “yes” man and whenever I thought and felt that things were getting out of hand, I spoke my mind and took whatever course of action I deemed necessary as a trade union activist.  Notwithstanding our diverging views, and at times adamant positions, we were able to maintain a productive working relationship.  

I came to know Lawrence when he was Minister for Social Policy and I was actively involved in the trade union movement. During those years he was the leading driving force behind many reforms including two major milestones which have revolutionised local social dialogue and industrial relations. With an economy which was rapidly shifting towards an open economy, the overhauling of our industrial relations legislation became ever more pressing. Lawrence took this challenge head on, drafted and piloted a new piece of legislation (the Employment and Relations Act, 2002) encompassing the previous Employment Relations Act (1952) and Industrial Relations Act (1976).  The proposed Bill was received with a strong round of applause by all the social partners present during the last session of the Social Policy parliamentary committee, where the draft Bill was being reviewed prior to its referral to the House.  

Another milestone Bill was that passed in 2001 related to the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development.  With the passing of this Bill, the social partners were now able to make recommendations to Government on social issues in addition to economic matters.  This substantially improved meaningful social dialogue, encompassing a wider perspective to that originally held by the MCED.       

Lawrence also contributed significantly during his tenure as Minister for Social Policy with his contributions at the ILO Conference held yearly in Geneva.  It was also an opportunity for the leaders of the local social partners participating in this conference - together with Frank Pullicino former Director of Labour, acting as interlocutor with his inimitable style - to iron out outstanding issues during the casual dinner with Lawrence.

Lawrence was also a major mover in a number of critical issues.  His endeavours ensured the smooth introduction of the euro in Malta and his immediate weighted actions during the turmoil in Libya are only two of many.       

Last Wednesday, Lawrence made his final speech in Parliament wherein he gave sound advice to his parliamentary colleagues.  This was followed by a short speech by Dr Anglu Farrugia, Speaker of the House, who was evidently moved.  He tried to hide his emotions but his voice gave him away. 

It was then the turn of Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat and Dr Simon Busuttil Leader of the Opposition to address the House.  Both made statements fitting for the occasion.  In different styles, they recognised Lawrence’s achievements during his twenty-six years of sterling service in politics.

Lawrence’s political career earned him credibility and his statesmanship became more renowned and recognised in international quarters, not least within the European Union. The financial package which he managed to secure for Malta just days before the last election speaks volumes, even more so when one takes into account that the EU Budget for this period has been reduced for most countries.    

I take this opportunity to thank Lawrence for steering Malta during the world-wide economic and financial woes which has hit negatively many countries. The high levels of unemployed people and the introduction of many austerity measures which Malta was spared are a testimony to Dr Lawrence Gonzi’s ability to lead. Hopefully, Malta continues on this positive trend and follows a road map which will be of benefit to us all.

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