The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

Justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia is Malta’s ‘primary challenge’ – President George Vella

Albert Galea Sunday, 13 December 2020, 13:04 Last update: about 5 months ago

Malta’s first and primary challenge is that, justice is done with those found guilty of having in any way participated in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, President George Vella said on Sunday. 

Addressing the traditional Republic Day ceremony, Vella said that allegations of criminality and dubious connections “have to be investigated in the most professional way possible, and those involved in this crime brought to justice without delay or favour.” 

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Vella began his speech on Sunday by saying that this time last year, he was prepared to deliver a Republic Day speech, which I thought would be the most challenging speech of my political career – a speech which was in the midst of Malta’s worst political crisis since independence.

“Once it was over, I felt relieved as if from a heavy burden and hoped that that chapter would be closed and become history. Time proved me wrong. At that time no one imagined what was in store for the People of Malta in the months that followed.” 

Vella saluted the memory of those who have lost their lives to Covid-19, and conveyed his appreciation to all those who work in the health sector and who have worked tirelessly to assist patients throughout this period.  

He spoke of how the pandemic has affected everyone’s daily life and has affected the country’s economy as well. 

He said that one overlying negative effect during the period of this Pandemic is that on the mental well-being of people from different walks of life. 

“Children had their schooling routine and classroom instruction disrupted. Young adults faced a reduction in work opportunities. Workers saw their revenues threatened, as business sales went down. Not to mention the conditions faced by our front liners – as already mentioned. Last, but definitely not least, our elderly, who apart from the fears linked to their vulnerability, also had to suffer isolation in many instances.” 

He welcomed news that a vaccine for the virus will be available to Malta soon, and that hopefully normality will be able to follow. 

The President said that he would have liked to look back and recall on the historical events that have characterised Malta’s past – events such as constitutional changes in the 1980s, the declaration of Malta’s neutrality, and Malta’s entry into the European Union. 

However, he said that he had chosen to look back on the past year instead – a year which he described as having had “unprecedented changes”, not only because of Covid-19. 

He said that political activism by a number of Civil Society representatives “who called for political transparency, accountability in Public Administration, legislative change that better reflect the rule of law, institutions that are more autonomous and independent in the way they operate, as well as a call for justice in relation to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia left a strong impact on the political and social environment of our country.” 

The resignation of a Prime Minister, mid-way through the legislature, at the beginning of the year, and the appointment of a new Prime Minister thereafter, are not common occurrences in the Maltese political context.” 

“Equally unusual was the contested removal, through an internal and democratic vote, of the Leader of the Opposition also mid-way through the legislature, for another new Leader to be appointed”, he said. 

He noted how these two developments extensively involved the Presidency and stimulated an animated debate on how far the powers of the President of the Republic can and should go, in the first instance, and on the interpretation of Articles in the Constitution, in the second.

Above all of this came the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with its disastrous effects on people’s health, social norms as we know them and its negative consequences on the country’s economy. 

President Vella said that the country is being faced by critical challenges it has to overcome. 

“Our country’s first and primary challenge is that, the soonest possible and within the requisite parameters of judicial correctness, justice is done with those found guilty of having in any way participated in the atrocious assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia." 

“Allegations of criminality and dubious connections have to be investigated in the most professional way possible, and those involved in this crime brought to justice without delay or favour.” 

We have to restore our country’s image abroad, the President said, before adding that this does not happen by trying to forget what happened, but by showing genuine remorse about what happened, and be persuasive in our conviction that nothing of the sort will ever happen again. 

President Vella spoke about a raft of other subjects such as the Environment and Migration as challenges which Malta is facing. 

On the environment, the President said that this is a primary concern of the Maltese people. 

“It is paradoxical that an ever-rising standard of living has brought with it factors that contributed towards the destruction of the environment we all share”, he said. 

He noted how Malta is producing more waste, experiencing more sea pollution, and more pollution from exaggerated numbers of heavy equipment and transport vehicles. 

He noted how there is above all else, the need for stricter safeguards so that construction, be it for domestic dwellings as well as that for the tourism and entertainment industry, does not hamper the delicate balance that should be respected between the natural and the developed environment. 

“I do fear we are close to losing this balance.  In this regard, I reiterate my appeal to environment regulatory bodies, those responsible for the issuance of development permits and environment pressure groups, to insist on the strict abidance with regulations and place the national interest before that of the developer.” 

“We cannot afford to lose our country’s beauty to unsightly buildings, with little or no architectural value or typical Maltese characteristics, which will be our architectural legacy to future generations”, he said.

On irregular migration, the President confessed that he does not see an end in sight to this phenomenon, although he looked positively at developments in Libya. 

“What we can continue doing is forging alliances and continue persuading other EU Member States that are still reluctant to assist EU frontline countries like Malta, that the notion and promise of solidarity are not just a superficial concept, but the very basis upon which the reciprocal trust that binds European Union Member States rests”, he said. 

Finally, he said that society must be more united. 

He condemned hate speech, particularly that on social media, and said that while he strongly believes in the need for free journalism in a democratic society, he is equally convinced of the damage done by journalism “which is purely speculative.” 

“We cannot be credible were we to preach peace to others, if we do not first of all find peace among ourselves”, he said. 

“It is not a problem having divergent opinions as long as we respect one another.  If we are not united, we will get weaker. We can only thrive if we stand united. Unity is the key to our country’s success”, he said. 

“How ironic is it that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a sense of unity and solidarity that we did not have before? Rightly so, we have helped each other and stood by each other. My question is ‘Do we need to have such emergencies to come together?’”, he said. 

It is only through unity that we can be a source of peace, he added.

 

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