The Malta Independent 17 September 2021, Friday

A very special word of thanks

Lawrence Gonzi Sunday, 21 July 2013, 09:19 Last update: about 8 years ago

Last Wednesday I left Parliament after nearly 25 years of having the honour and privilege of serving my country in the House of Representatives.

It has been indeed a wonderful journey and words cannot express the countless experiences and their associated emotions that have characterised this journey. As a nation, we have accomplished so much together. Today’s Malta is radically different to the Malta of 1987. Our society prides itself on an education system that provides our citizens with the keys to success, state-of-the-art health and welfare services that are fundamental to the social wellbeing of all generations, a vibrant economy that has created 20,000 jobs in the past five years of economic and financial crisis and a renaissance in our arts, culture and heritage.

But there is much more to the ‘home’ we have built together over the past 25 years.

My career in Parliament coincided with the setting up of the National Commission for Persons with Disability. 

A few weeks after I unsuccessfully contested the 1987 general election, Louis Galea, then Minister of Social Policy, asked me to set up and chair this new Commission, aimed at bringing disability issues to the centre of national policy. I accepted the invitation on the understanding that it would be a temporary assignment, until such time as a disabled person would take the lead. Little did I know that my acceptance would transform me and my vision of society and politics and how the two interrelate.

I decided to enter politics and contest the 1987 election because of the turmoil Malta experienced in the 1980s. It was a conscious decision based on the belief that politics could be used as an instrument for change. 

A few months after the setting up of the National Commission for Persons with Disability, disabled people and their families started to articulate the change they wanted to see taking place in our society. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, the weight and influence of the position became a counterbalance to the powerlessness that disabled persons often experienced. The real value of authority and power in politics is when rendered at the service of those most vulnerable.

Gradually, disabled people and their families began claiming their right to live an ordinary life, to have removed the societal barriers that disabled them, to be provided with support services that would allow them to make ordinary life choices.

The Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disabilities) Act, that I piloted as the first law of the second millennium, is more of a point of departure than of arrival. The paradigm had shifted. Disability could no longer be used as a basis for treating a person less favourably. Although legal provisions cannot change societal attitudes towards vulnerable people, they are necessary to secure the rights of people society has historically excluded.

Even if Malta were to reach an optimum level of support services and full compliance with the Equal Opportunities Act, the rights’ approach and the provision of services have their limitations, as much as the State does have its own limitations.

The State and its laws cannot secure love, care, understanding, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. Only families and their extension – through community organisations – can successfully transcend such limitations of the State. 

Charity has therefore acquired a new meaning: that of a culture in which each person sees him or herself as responsible for and concerned with the wellbeing of others. No disabled person, and no disadvantaged group for that matter, can fully belong to society without charity developing into a culture of responsibility. 

We can only build society as a home where everyone belongs if and when we all recognise our responsibility as we accompany each other on the journey of life.

The past 25 years of journey with disabled people and their families have highlighted the importance of focusing society’s attention on those most in need. 

Inclusion in education has greatly benefitted non-disabled students in embracing their responsibility towards vulnerable students. This education is transforming society at its roots. Nobody loses when decisions are taken that focus on those most vulnerable; all of society gains, not least in reinventing our identity as a caring society in a changing world.

The home we have built together over the past 25 years is more beautiful, more inclusive, more egalitarian, more open, more just and more humane because disabled people and their families have helped us understand the value of the human being, irrespective of ability or disability. 

In all the difficult decisions I had to face as Prime Minister, not least in the financial and economic crisis of the past five years, the Libyan crisis, the immigration challenge and in several other difficult moments, I have felt you – disabled people and your families – near me, supporting me and inspiring me.

You helped me stay focused on what could be done rather than on what could not be done. And you were with me, telling me to keep at the centre of my politics all those that are most vulnerable and urging me to value all of human life, irrespective of ability, colour, race or status.

I owe you, disabled people and your families, a special word of thanks for all you have given me and for all you have given to Maltese society.

 

Dr Gonzi is Malta’s former Prime Minister and retired from politics this week

 

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