President George Vella has broken with tradition to raise the issue of abortion during his Republic Day speech, saying he hopes that “all the points” are addressed before the amendment is signed into law.

He was delivering his annual address at the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta, before the prime minister, leader of the opposition, cabinet, MPs and other dignitaries.

“You know very well that the president does not comment on laws that are being discussed in parliament, but I feel that these are particular circumstances,” he said.

“I want to express my hope that we can find solutions that address all the points that are being raised during this debate.”

Vella, who will have to sign off on the eventual law, did not comment further in his address.

He has told people close to him that he is prepared to resign if parliament approves the amendment to the abortion law as proposed by the government.

Sources said he is mainly concerned the proposed change would allow for the termination of a pregnancy when a woman’s health, rather than her life, is deemed to be at risk.

The bill is currently going through a second reading in parliament.

'Domestic violence more widespread than we think'

During his 35-minute speech, Vella said Malta is making great strides in providing excellent healthcare, social services and free education, but much more needs to be done in other areas.

He pointed to concerns over protecting the environment, safety of construction workers, effective integration with foreign residents, the fight against poverty, social exclusion and bullying. He said domestic violence, is far more widespread than we think, reminding his audience of the murder of mother-of-two Bernice Cassar.

“No amount of words of comfort can bring Bernice Cassar back from what was a murder that shocked us all, but we have a duty to make sure it does not happen again,” he said.

“Bullying, sexual harassment and domestic violence are plaguing our society and they are widespread across all ages and social classes. More victims must come out and speak and the authorities should do more to punish perpetrators with harsh sentences, continuous education and victim support.”

He also weighed in on the construction industry - first reminding the authorities that Malta’s natural environment is fast disappearing “under the tarmac of our roads” and is giving way to industrial and commercial development - and then moving on to note that many victims of workplace fatalities are construction workers.

He mentioned 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia, who was found dead under the rubble of a collapsed construction site in Corradino earlier this month.

“We need more surveillance, enforcement and discipline to prevent abuse,” he said. 

Vella said the food crisis brought about by the Ukraine war should provide yet another reason for the island to protect agricultural land.

Poverty, environmental destruction and road deaths

He also said that despite the ample social and financial state aid, homelessness remains an issue, and some families are still struggling to make ends meet, even though they might have reasonable salaries and a roof over their heads.

Some are burdened by the rising cost of rent, which seems to continue on its upward trend even though the supply of apartments is constantly increasing.

“What we see happening to the environment does not encourage us,” he said, as he paused to specifically highlight overdevelopment in Gozo.

“The environment is not an infinite resource and once we lose it, we can’t get it back. We will have lost everything. The only winners will be those who filled their pockets while they negotiated this precious resource.”

He also talked about the traffic-congested roads, urging authorities to find experts that can guide the country to effectively tackle the problem, with measures that go beyond changing the road infrastructure.

“Too many people are dying in traffic accidents and saluting their memories is not enough,” he said.

“We must deeply analyse what’s going on and take measures to prevent the tragedies.”

Vella said the ‘alarming suicide rate’ in Malta should be a warning sign for the authorities to study, and better understand what is causing the spike, and to make sure that the existent mental health services effectively and efficiently reach all those who need them.

“We must also be vigilant to ensure that our young people who may be struggling, do not opt for greater alcohol and psychotropic substance abuse,” he said.

'We must employ integration programs'

Vella also expressed concern about the Maltese people’s discomfort with migrants and general unwillingness to integrate with them and the lack of effective integration programs that are needed to increase social cohesion.

“We condemn any act of racial hatred and hostile language, but it’s not enough. We must employ integration programs,” he said, adding that some foreigners still have no place of worship where they can practice their faith.

“We must accept that our country is becoming increasingly multicultural and embrace its advantages.”

Vella also said that the country has a duty to continue searching for the truth in the case of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and to bring to justice all the people who were involved, until the people and her family feel justice has been done.’

'Unnecessary delays' in choosing standards commissioner

He said he finds it difficult to understand why it took so long for the authorities to agree on the appointment of an ombudsman, and how the standards commissioner’s seat is still vacant.

“Necessitating a two-thirds parliamentary majority for such appointments was a good step forward, but I’m under the impression that this might have also blocked the system and created unnecessary delays,” he said.

“I don’t want to give the impression that everything is wrong. This country is doing a lot of good, but I feel I should point to where things could be done better.”

He also weighed in on the stream of statistics that continue to show that most young people would rather leave the island to live and work abroad.

Our country is not a heaven on earth, he said, but it is not the hell that some paint it to be.

“It is true that our country may not be able to offer our young people all the opportunities that other countries can offer, but our education is offering them the most that they can absorb,” he said.

“I wish that young people have the opportunity to contribute to the development of our country and feel proud to be Maltese," he concluded. 

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