A retired chief justice has issued a stinging rebuke to university students, saying they need to wake up from their lethargy and challenge the abuse of power and corruption.

Joseph Said Pullicino said that students who do not have the courage to stand up and be counted will not make good leaders and that the situation was worse if those who remained silent did so out of fear of “missing out on the gravy train”.

The former ombudsman contrasted national student-led protests during the 1956 Russian invasion of Hungary with the lack of any similar local action over the invasion of Ukraine.

He said that even the murder of a high-profile journalist had not been enough to inspire them.

Students who do not have the courage to stand up and be counted will not make good leaders in the future- Joseph Said Pullicino

Said Pullicino was writing in the Foreword to the 32nd edition of Id-Dritt, a publication of the University of Malta’s Law Student’s Society.

“Not even the assassination of a journalist [Daphne Caruana Galizia] to shut her up – an event that shocked the world – managed to wake the student body from its apparent lethargy,” he wrote.

“The situation was serious enough to provoke a strong reaction from civil society groups still in their infancy, to bring about a change of government and a strong call for radical reform to stabilise failing institutions, restore the rule of law and secure good governance…

“Little or no reaction was forthcoming from university bodies or student groups,” Said Pulllicino wrote in the publication for law students.

One of three members of the inquiry into the murder of Caruana Galizia, he described Malta as facing a crisis in good governance, failing institutions and a breakdown in the rule of law.

Things were different when he was a student

“There is a general feeling that the country has gone off course and that urgent, remedial action needs to be taken to redress the situation,” he said adding that law students ought to be on the forefront of this.

He reflected that things were different when he was a student. Back then, they were at the forefront of national protests when, in 1956, Russia invaded Hungary.

“I recall taking part in a nationwide door to door collection to set up a relief fund to support Hungarian refugees and tender relief supplies,” he wrote.

“As far as I am aware, the tragic invasion of Ukraine did not produce any significant ripples of protest or initiative of note within university circles,” he added.

Another example was the reaction of students to the suspension of the constitution by the British government following the 1958 riots.

Apathy reflects disillusionment or helplessness

Today’s youth faced a challenge: the apathy that reflected a strong sense of disillusionment or a feeling of helplessness.

“If it is due to concern that it is better not to get involved in controversial issues since that could damage one’s prospects for career advancement, it reflects badly on the quality of professionals that the university is producing,” he said.

“Students who condition their lives against a backdrop of political convenience if not outright opportunism and do not have the courage to stand up and be counted for what they believe to be right and just will not make good leaders in the future.

“If, on the other hand, it is due to fear of being singled out for expressing views that are unpalatable to the powers that be, fearful of repression or vindictiveness, or of missing out on the gravy train or suffer prejudice in their future career, the situation is even worse.”

Said Pullicino went on to urge students to regain their role and influence public opinion on matters that were the subject of national debate.

These included constitutional reform, the rule of law, good governance, separation of powers, proper checks and balances to secure the right of good public administration, curbing corruption and abuse of power.

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