The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Lawrence Gonzi - a tribute to a gentleman

Malta Independent Thursday, 18 July 2013, 09:22 Last update: about 9 years ago

Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday bowed out of politics after 25 years of service to the people of Malta.

He was accompanied to parliament by his wife Kate, the woman who has been his rock and his sense of balance throughout his career, a fact recognised by all who addressed parliament, following his farewell speech. There was a sense of finality as Dr Gonzi, tired after years in the hot seat, expressed his desire to spend more time with his family.

The speeches of Dr Gonzi, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil and speaker Anglu Farrugia took everyone through his journey – from a man who started by wanting to help others, to a man who steered Malta through the economic crisis and the Libyan uprising. The highlights raised were many. The low points were also brought up. But above everything else, Dr Gonzi emerged a gentleman, a true servant of Malta and its people.

Truly remarkable, also, was the speech by the PM. He referred to Dr Gonzi as the best orator in the House and reflected on his own insecurities as he took on the role of leader of the Labour Party. He said that while Dr Gonzi and he might have disagreed on the way of doing things, they always agreed on substance and had a mutual respect for each other.

For a man who is often accused as being egotistical, perhaps his best tribute was thanking Dr Gonzi for his advice in dealing with the EU council, where Prime Ministers meet around one table with no backup whatsoever. “I thank him for his advice,” said Dr Muscat, in clear and genuine appreciation. Even those who were not watching could hear Dr Gonzi’s genuine laughter, as the PM cracked a joke between two about mobile phone reception within the hallowed halls of Brussels.

Since he moved to the backbench, Dr Gonzi has perhaps found some time to express the feelings he had never been able to express as Prime Minister and later Opposition leader. When he has spoken in parliament, he has touched upon the immigration issue time and time again. But he has also, without sounding like a know-all, offered some words of advice to the current government and the Prime Minister.

Dr Gonzi also spoke about politics and democracy in general.  “Politics grows and gets stronger when we are able to bring together many voices, which while different in tone and volume, resulting in something beautiful.”

Dr Gonzi served in parliament for 25 years, in the roles of Speaker, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the House, Minister, Opposition Leader and MP.

While explaining that politics is not easy, he said: “The experience of 25 years in politics showed me that if you really want to improve society, there is no better tool than politics based on a sense of service”.

He explained that power is simply a tool not a means in itself and consequently, MPs must constantly remind themselves that the Parliamentary seat does not belong to them and should not be used for their personal advancement.

He went on to say that power is intimately tied with the value of solidarity and believes it can only be justified when used responsibly for and towards each other. This is something families who have a disabled person have taught him and feels everyone should follow their example.

Their unrelenting commitment, courage and hope, as well as unconditional love, towards the weak have taught him to concentrate and focus all energy on what he can achieve and to look for ability in disability.

Reflecting on the present, notably the irregular immigration controversy, Dr Gonzi reiterated this is a huge problem for Malta. “But the problem itself should not lead us to forget that we are treating with human beings and victims of atrocities we cannot imagine.  The racist comments I read and heard over the past days have deeply saddened me and shows that Malta is not realising the human tragedy taking place in the sea around us.”

He believes politicians should better explain realities and possible solutions. Meanwhile, Malta should continue to press with the EU insomuch that every country should carry the burden it can take. We must insist with the European and international community so that they understand it is in everyone’s interest to see migrants integrated in a community that offers them the space to develop full dignity. He also believes Malta should continue to insist that the EU and the International community should help in the repatriation of individuals not entitled for a refugee or humanitarian status, according to conventions Malta has signed.

While doing this, politicians should continuously be guided by the strong sense we always had of respect to life, irrespective of who the person is.

The value of a people that cares about others and that is not indifferent, is part of the Maltese social fabric. In difficult economic times, companies in difficult did their very best not to lay off people and he hopes that choices in favour of human beings are taken in every Parliamentary decision.

He hopes it will never forget the difficult times that led the country to what it is today.

Highlighting that many had asked him not to take the step of resigning from Parliament and to retain his seat till the end of the legislature, he said this would have gone against what he always believed in.

“The seat is not mine, but yours,” he said. “My duty now is to return it and have someone who can contribute all his energy to the Maltese electorate, occupy it”.

He thanked all the people who trusted in him throughout all these years, those who worked with him and trusted him, mentioning particularly those close to him in the extraordinary weeks before Malta joined the EU and the intensive preparations to enter the euro zone. Similarly, there were moments of tension during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, the Libyan crisis and the difficult and risky decisions Malta had to take, and negotiations with the EU to win what seemed impossible for the island.

He had special thanks for the Maltese people, whom he described as “extraordinary”, not realising what it was able to achieve, even when faced with great difficulties that led to the downfall of other countries.

He spoke of the standard of living we enjoy, the social structure and flexible economy that is prepared for the future.

Over the years, Malta managed to keep its identity and strengthened it with EU accession, he believes, while listing the great achievements for the island, including Independence and becoming a Republic.

He gave his best wishes to PN leader Simon Busuttil and augured that the party will keep with the tradition of doing politics based on the principles and values that made this country and the people over the years.

Finally, he thanked the electorate which trusted in him over all the years.

He described how the economy changed and became technologically equipped while new factories and services with very good salaries and conditions opened up. New schools were opened and the University and MCAST were extended, modernising the education system which is giving opportunities to everyone.

Mater Dei Hospital was opened and enormous investments were made in infrastructure, environment, and heritage.

He is proud to have contributed to a change in the island’s image and that for 23 out of the 25 years during which he served as MP, the island was led by PN governments.

“Politics is not everything,” he said in conclusion.

In the past weeks since stepping down from party leader, he is rediscovering the beauty of the islands in walks and outings with his wife and grandchildren. He no longer spends long days and nights at work and has the time to appreciate the beauty of the island, the sea, Gozo, our capital city, the countryside and culture which are unique.

On a final note, he wished all MPs, to have the satisfaction at work and in sacrifice by leaving a better island for future generations.

PM and opposition leader salute Dr Gonzi

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Dr Gonzi gave unconditional service in the best interests of the country, and said that even though they often disagreed on the method used, the final aim was the same – the common good an improving the standard of living of Maltese people.

He said people might imagine it was difficult for him to deliver such an address and find words of appreciation for an opponent, “But with Dr Gonzi it is easy”, he said.

The House has lost the best orator from whom I have learnt a lot, he explained, adding that Dr Gonzi communicated well with his adversaries.

He described him as a strong political adversary and pointed out that when he was first elected Labour Party leader, he was worried about being able to match Dr Gonzi.

“I learnt a lot from him because he was always strong, prepared and ready for the political fight yet knowing where to draw the line, said Dr Muscat.

He spoke on the great challenge Dr Gonzi faced when Malta joined the EU and he started attending European Council summits as Prime Minister. He pointed out how Dr Gonzi had rightly advised him that Council summits are a completely different game than local Parliament because each country’s Prime Minister would attend the meetings alone.

Dr Muscat also expressed gratitude for the work and change in mentality Dr Gonzi brought about with regard to disabled people and the contribution, Kate, his wife, his wife, made towards his work, describing her as one the best campaigners he had ever met. It was, perhaps, the most sincere speech the Prime Minister has made to date.

Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil commented on the fact that a full stranger’s gallery showed the respect Dr Gonzi enjoyed.

He described this as the end of an era for both the PN and Parliament, adding that Dr Gonzi meant seriousness, dedication without limits and full trust in the Maltese and Gozitans

He spoke on the legacy he was leaving behind and said we should be proud that our island was for years led by a person consistent in his principles and loyal to the values he embraced.

The past 10 years were a great success because Dr Gonzi took great steps for our island to integrate in the EU, enter the euro zone, the Schengen Area

Dr Gonzi managed to achieve a financial package of €1,128 million in EU funds, he said. Dr Gonzi is a statesman who is leaving social, economic and educational structures behind.

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