In the second part of an exclusive interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, President MARIE-LOUISE COLEIRO PRECA says she believes that life starts at conception but insists that it is too early to say if she would endorse a Bill on the introduction of embryo freezing as the Bill has not yet been published and she has not been officially informed in any way. The President also tells Neil Camilleri that she has never attended events in the illegal areas of Montekristo Estates and objects to allegations that she ‘has been reduced to beggar status’
When Joseph Muscat offered the Presidency to Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, many speculated that this was a political move to get her out of the way. One of the reasons mentioned was Ms Coleiro Preca’s conservative nature – she had opposed the introduction of divorce and there had also been speculation that she did not support Civil Unions – although she later denied this and signed the Bill into law. Asked if her appointment was part of a political strategy, Ms Coleiro Preca said: “I think that that is a question for the Prime Minister to answer. What I can say from my end is that I never aspired to become president. I always saw myself as being part of the executive. I did not welcome the news and I kept refusing for a number of weeks. Naturally, once I took on the role I put all my effort into it.”
The Malta Independent on Sunday recently revealed that Dr Muscat had first offered the Presidency to the now independent MP Marlene Farrugia. “I had no idea about this. Then again I do not think the Prime Minister had to tell me everything,” the President said when asked if she had known she was not the Prime Minister’s first choice.
‘I believe life starts from the moment of conception’
“I believe that life starts at conception,” President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca states when asked for her views about the raging debate on embryo freezing.
Interviewed by this paper, President Coleiro Preca would not be drawn into speculation, insisting that one had to see how the debate progressed and what the final proposals would be. “The issue needs to be debated much further and we need to wait for the draft bill because we have not seen one, so far. It would be imprudent of me to comment beyond saying what I believe in at this stage, in view of the fact that I have not been informed officially in any way.”
The proposals being pushed forward by the Prime Minister include allowing up to five embryos to be frozen, while any ‘leftover’ embryos would be given up for adoption.
Asked if she would feel comfortable endorsing the controversial procedure, the President said she would wait until a final Bill was presented.
She hinted that her final decision would very much depend on the details. “We are hearing a lot of voices but, to my knowledge, there is nothing concrete so far. I will have to wait until the Bill is presented, then we will see, since, as yet, I have not been officially informed in any way.”
Attending events at Montekristo
The President was also criticized for attending activities held at the Montekristo Estates in Hal-Farrug – the Polidano-owned complex which is riddled with illegalities, including an unlicensed zoo.
One such activity was a “charity dinner” organized by the Malta Developers Association, with the proceeds going to the Malta Community Chest Fund. The President had also opened the Fiera l-Kbira at Montekristo, and was pictured at the event accompanied by Charles Polidano ‘ic-Caqnu.’ In 2014, parking fees were donated to the MCCF.
Asked if her attendance at the complex was possibly sending out the wrong message, the President insisted that she has never visited the illegal parts of the complex. “Secondly, these activities were not organised by my office but by other organisations who wanted to donate the proceedings to the MCCF, which I chair. This was not something we organised or a place with which we identified ourselves.”
‘I am not a beggar’
We asked her to react to comments that the President has been reduced to being a beggar. We pointed out that some say that she is effectively still the Social Affairs Minister. “The Social Affairs Minister is not a beggar and neither am I. If people have this impression of me it is because they are not following what the Presidency is doing. The MCCF is just one of many aspects of the presidency and we do so much more than just fund-raising.”
President Coleiro Preca spoke about the “enormous” work being carried out by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society. “We are bringing people together to speak about their aspirations, their sense of wellbeing, their relationships with society, what makes them happy. They come up with issues that need to be addressed in society. There are also conferences like the National Conference on Wellbeing, and the Bullying Conference, which, for the first time, were based on children’s perspective. We are creating a safe space where children can voice their views. The aim of the Foundation is to be a catalyst to bring about active citizenship.”
The Foundation is also carrying out important research, including the already published studies, ‘Early School Leaving and Wellbeing in Malta and Beyond: A Statistical Analysis’, and the Problematic Internet Use in Malta among Young People Aged between 18-30 Years: A Quantitative Study. “Other initiatives include for example, bringing together stakeholders on the largely unknown issue of drug driving. The foundation is working around the clock, but unfortunately is rarely given attention it deserves by the media.”
Another entity within the Presidency that is unrelated to fund-raising is the President’s Trust – which is drafting programmes in partnership with other organisations to help vulnerable groups and the underprivileged. “We are seeking to entice businesses to fund practical projects aimed at helping these bands of society. We believe in not just giving these people the fishing rod but also teaching them how to fish. Only then, and in this way, can they have access to equal opportunities.”
“Those who are calling me a beggar are being selective and subjective,” says Ms Coleiro Preca, insisting that she would rather dedicate all of her time and effort to helping the needy rather than replying to unfair criticism levelled against her.
Speech was not just about Debono Grech and Farrugia
President Coleiro Preca says she wants her term to be remembered as a catalyst for change and unification. “I do not want people to remember me personally. I want to have the satisfaction of seeing people come together on the most basic things. It does not matter that we have disagreements; contrasting ideas help us come up with the best ideas.
“We have to be united and show respect and tolerance towards each other. I want us to stop bullying each other, to be able to sit around a table and work together for the benefit of society. I want us to leave partisan politics out of the national fora. We should not insult each other – that is something for people who have not matured enough.”
The President says it is useless for us to teach children to be against bullying if adults resort to the same sort of behaviour.
Mrs Coleiro Preca says, however, that her remarks on the behaviour of politicians in her Republic Day speech were not specifically related to the recent threats made by veteran PL MP Joe Debono Grech toward former Labour colleague Marlene Farrugia. “I had been observing things for quite some time. This was not about one occasion and I did not say what I said to please some political party and chastise the other. Both parties have some very valid people but politicians have to show maturity.
“I know what politics are – I spent many years as a politician myself, and I know that we do not progress if we insult each other. We can only progress when we acknowledge the potential of others and are capable of working with each other for the good of the country.”
Gieh ir-Repubblika and impeachments
We asked the President whether the prestige of the Gieh ir-Repubbika honours had been reduced in recent years. The honours list includes a few controversial names every year – this year it was former GWU Secretary General Tony Zarb. Some also think that winning the Junior Eurovision song contest is not a feat worthy of the country’s highest honour.
“Most countries have their own honours so we are not doing something out of this world. By giving the award to young singers who distinguished themselves and their country we are promoting local talent and culture. I see nothing wrong with that,” Ms Coleiro Preca said.
We also asked the President about the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which she chairs. Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco had retired and Magistrate Carol Peralta had resigned before investigations into their respective cases were completed. The Commission was accused of dragging its feet while the government was accused of interfering in the process.
President Coleiro Preca says the Commission needs a review, but this is unrelated to the above-mentioned cases. “Regarding the first case, I was not yet involved in the Commission and it would be presumptuous of me to comment. In the second case I believe that the proceedings moved within the timeframe allowed by rules of the Commission. This is an entity that is regulated by the Constitution and meets every month. I can say that these meetings always last several hours, and a lot of work is carried out in those meetings.”
Nonetheless, she thinks the time has come for a review of the commission. “For example, the Presidency is a non-executive role but the President has an executive role, even a casting vote, as head of the Commission.” The Commission for the Administration of Justice was set up decades ago and needs to be appraised and reviewed where necessary. This has to be done within the context of the upcoming constitutional review.”
Man-made poverty, man can destroy poverty
Turning to the subject of poverty, Ms Coleiro Preca says education is the key but it is not the only solution to the problem. “Poverty is also linked to weak social action. We cannot burden the education system with things that it cannot give us. Schools, families, communities and all those involved in the social sector need to join forces for an integrated, holistic approach.”
Quoting Nelson Mandela, the President says that since poverty was created by man it can be eradicated by man. “This is the opportune time, when our country is experiencing significant economic growth. We can truly address the issue of poverty and at the same time develop Social Wealth Indicators, which would allow us to measure progress in this field.”
ISIS is making us fear each other
The President also spoke on migration and the rise of extremism and racism. She says the world would still experience migration if there was no conflict, persecution and poverty. “Migration has always been a normal process. It is normal for people to search for a better life. Many Maltese young people seek a better life abroad and there is nothing wrong with that. So why should others not do the same?”
Climate change, she says, will also become a leading contributor to migration. “Large areas will become submerged, others will become bone dry. The people who live in these areas will have no choice but to escape to a better place. The Paris agreement will not reverse climate change and the world will still have to adapt to its effects. That is why the United Nations needs to help these people migrate with dignity.”
She also spoke of the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from war. “Those who have to face snipers every day, people who are living in fear just as you and I would, have no choice but to escape. Unfortunately, extremism and terror groups like ISIS have led us to fear one another. They have caused us to fear even those who are genuine refugees – people who have no intention of harming anyone.”
National Security has to remain at the top of our agenda, President Coleiro Preca says, but we have to be careful not to fall into the terrorist’ trap and start fearing our brethren, including Maltese Muslims. “If we start fearing Maltese people who embrace different cultures and religions, or naturalized Maltese citizens, we will end up in a situation where we will be too scared to go out of our front door. We cannot let those who want to disturb our daily lives with fear succeed, and we cannot resort to witch hunts.”