The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Lawrence Gonzi: A poignant farewell

Malta Independent Thursday, 18 July 2013, 08:07 Last update: about 9 years ago

At the time of writing Lawrence Gonzi, a man who needs little introduction to Maltese readers,  was due to deliver his farewell address to Parliament within a few hours’ time – in the process bringing down the final curtain on a 25-year history in politics that has been fraught with success and failure alike.

It will not be for us, but, rather, for history with its 20/20 hindsight to judge the man’s accomplishments and failings.  But after having served nine years as the country’s Prime Minister one thing is for certain: love him or hate him, the accomplishments that marked his tenure have forever changed this country for the better.

While it was his predecessor Eddie Fenech Adami who had successfully steered the country into EU membership, it was Dr Gonzi who assumed the reins shortly afterward, and ensured that Malta left its mark as an EU member state both diplomatically and as a people.

It was Dr Gonzi who marshalled the country into the eurozone, and it was also him who successfully negotiated over €2 billion in funding from the European Union - funds that have reshaped these islands from the clean seas made possible by new EU-funded sewage water treatment plants, to the closing and capping of the infamous Maghtab landfill.

Malta weathered the financial crisis without the mass job redundancies EU states had witnessed - not out of blind luck or any special characteristics of the Maltese workforce, but, rather, out of the governments resolve to build a more resilient economy, and its concrete action in dissuading foreign investors from vacating Malta for cheaper labour destinations – very real threats that stood to threaten thousands of Maltese jobs.

The multiple challenges of the Arab Spring bore heavily on the island, heavier than we the public will perhaps ever know, and in particular the multiple diplomatic tightropes the last government walked with respect to Libya.  But through that all, Malta consistently and proudly stood on the right side of history in each and every decision taken by the then Prime Minister.

That is, however, not to say that mistakes were not made.  The parliamentary honoraria issue, for example, was grossly mishandled – although the payment was perfectly justified in so many ways, the way in which it was not made fully public when it was introduced in the first days of the last legislature earned Dr Gonzi’s government scorn right up to the last polling day.

The divorce issue will also haunt Dr Gonzi’s legacy.  After his party campaigned against the introduction of divorce, a referendum revealed that the country, by and large, agreed with it.  But in his typical style, Dr Gonzi refused to buckle and still voted against its introduction in the House.

There is, however, one crucial point that many appear to have forgotten in this discourse: before that vote was taken the Nationalist Party’s parliamentary group had been convened, and during that meeting Dr Gonzi had ascertained that, given the legislation’s backing by many of his own MPs and by the vast majority of Labour MPs, there was no way that the legislation would fail. As such, Dr Gonzi had said he would still vote against it, in line with his conscience but safe in the knowledge that the will of the people would be reflected by the House’s overall vote.

Had the situation been any different, and had, for example, his vote been the decisive factor, we are certain that Dr Gonzi would have voted in favour of divorce so as to ensure that the people’s will was respected.

That, in many ways, sums up what Dr Gonzi is all about at the end of the day: he is a man of principle, and a man of his word.  Rare were the occasions in which he broke his word and rarer still were the occasions in which he did not act purely in the national interest.

And while his two terms were far from plain sailing, it was that last year of his stewardship that was his final undoing.  With an unruly backbench, to put it mildly, Dr Gonzi had faced one parliamentary crisis after another, and he has suffered the consequences for not having acted more decisively to control those elements within his own party.

It is true that his past administration handled the big picture well, but it paid the price for that by having distanced itself from the electorate and as a result, the electorate distanced itself, by a considerable margin at that, from the government.  And it paid the ultimate price, to the tune of some 37,000 votes, in the last election.

Here again, Dr Gonzi’s will to do what is correct shines through.  On that election Sunday, he announced that he was stepping down as the party’s leader. While most of the country had quite rightly foreseen that a Labour election victory at the polls was virtually assured, not everyone was expecting a victory of such proportions. But such was the case and Dr Gonzi did the only honourable thing to be done in such circumstances.  He certainly cannot be faulted for that, nor be accused of clinging to power at all costs – he did the right thing right down to the bitter end, and it certainly must have been a bitter pill for him to swallow.

Whether one loves him, hates him, or loves to hate him, every Maltese of every political stripe owes the man a debt of gratitude for having served the country over the last 25 years in practically every position - as Speaker and as Leader of the House of Representatives, as deputy prime minister and as Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, as an MP and as a minister. 

The man dedicated the best part of his professional life to serving us to the best of his abilities, and if for nothing else, the man deserves our eternal gratitude for this commitment and sacrifice.  Thank you, Dr Gonzi.

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