President George Vella delivered a unifying speech at his inauguration on Thursday, saying that one of his priorities would be that of seeking to heal divisions, including those caused by the blots on Malta’s character caused by the murders of Karin Grech, Raymond Caruana and Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The former foreign minister was sworn in at a special sitting of Parliament, taking over from his former Cabinet colleague Marie-Lousie Coleiro Preca.
Dr Vella, said his would be a silent, impartial presidency that would also seek to be a moral compass, a mirror of the people’s needs, giving a voice to those who were not heard and solace to those who needed it.
Dr Vella said he was assuming the office with deep humility, gratitude and pride.
He said he had accepted to assume the role of President in order to serve the people and to promote Malta’s values, including a fair distribution of wealth.
The concept of charity had unfortunately been eroded, he said, but those who needed help should receive it as a right not as charity.
Economic wealth did not mean there was no material poverty, and he would therefore seek to maintain the social commitment demonstrated by his predecessor.
He would promote social welfare and a decent quality of life everyone was entitled for, including migrant workers.
As a doctor, he would interest himself in developments in the health sector and continue to see that there was respect for medical and moral ethics ‘including respect for life from its very beginning.’
He would also closely follow the sector of the elderly, where it needed to be ensured that there was no deterioration of living conditions.
In a mixed liberal community, Dr Vella said, Malta needed to be proud of its moral values, including charity and solidarity.
He would also commit himself to education, whether academic or utilitarian, but also an appreciation of art and culture.
Highlights importance of the environment
Dr Vella recalled that the environment had been among his first ministerial responsibilities in 1996. Much had changed since then, he said, but Malta’s size remained the same.
Malta, he said, faced strong pressure on the natural and built environment, and he would be recommending enforcement of the rules to ensure environmental sustainability.
He would also promote measures for better quality of air and the sea and measures to avoid global warming.
Absolute importance would be given by the presidency to strengthen national unity. Having different points of view was a sacred right but there needed to be dialogue that was mature and respectful, with no personal attacks.
National unity also meant dialogue between the state and the various churches and religions.
There was also a need to rekindle respect for national symbols such as the flag, the anthem, the language, history and culture, the constitutional structures and their laws, and especially, respect to the Constitution.
Differences remained on issues such as the rule of law, administrative powers and the blots on Malta caused by the murders of Karin Grech, Raymond Caruana and Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Dr Vella also spoke about his role as guardian of the Constitution and insisted that the process for a revision of the constitution should be as broad as possible, including MPs, experts, NGOs and civil society in general.
But even more important than updating the Constitution was the need for a commitment to respect what was agreed upon.
The President also spoke briefly on foreign affairs and said that Malta, despite being small, would remain relevant and would be respected as long as it showed itself to be competent.
Cites concerns with right-wing extremism, populism
His concerns, he said, included populism, right-wing extremism, climate change, organised crime, human and arms trafficking and organised crime.
Malta could play an important role in international fora in the context of the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Malta should be proud of its values and morals even in international fora, he said, including in the UN Security Council if it was elected to it in 2023-24.
“We need to be clear in our condemnation of exploitation of workers from other countries, human trafficking, arms trafficking and organised crime.
Read the full address in Maltese on pdf below.
Dr Vella was sworn in by the Speaker of the House, Anġlu Farrugia.
A resolution for his appointment was approved by the Labour and Nationalist members of parliament on Tuesday.
The ceremony was preceded by Mass led by Archbishop Charles Scicluna at at St John’s Co-Cathedral.
Dr Vella then walked to the Palace, where the parliamentary sitting was held in the Grand Council Chamber.
As soon as the oath of office was administered, the AFM fired a salute from Pope Pius V Street in Valletta using vintage guns. Trumpeters sounded a fanfare in the Chamber.
The new President read a proclamation declaring that he has assumed the new duties and then delivered his inaugural address.
The new President waved to the crown on St George Square from the Palace balcony.
His first official function was to pay tribute to the fallen by laying a wreath at the foot of the War Memorial in Floriana.
He then proceeded to San Anton Palace – his home for the next five years - where the staff will be introduced.
President Vella will receive courtesy calls by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Adrian Delia.
The role of the President
The President of Malta is the head of state and has a largely ceremonial role.
However, it is the President who decides who to appoint as prime minister after a general election, basing his decision upon who in his judgement commands a majority of the members of the House of Representatives.
The President summons and dissolves the House of Representatives and calls a general election on the advice of the prime minister.
He/she may, however, act upon his own judgement to dismiss the prime minister or dissolve the House if the government loses a confidence vote. Conversely, if the prime minister recommends dissolution of parliament (before the end of its term) and the President considers that the government can be carried on without dissolution and that dissolution would not be in the interests of Malta, he may refuse to dissolve parliament.
The President is a key part of the legislative process. Draft financial legislation first needs to be presented to the President who then recommends it to the House. The President also has to give his assent to all Bills approved by the House before they become law.
In cases of public emergency, if the House is not in session, the President may by proclamation summon it.
Despite this important legislative role, the President only addresses the House of Representatives upon his/her appointment and at the summoning of parliament. Only one President has addressed the summoning of parliament twice – Ugo Mifsud Bonnici did so when Alfred Sant’s Labour government was elected in 1996 and when the PN government was elected 22 months later.
Among other roles, the President receives the diplomatic credentials of new ambassadors to Malta, chairs the Commission for the Administration of Justice and, acting on the advice of the government, appoints judges and the heads of constitutional bodies.
The President may grant a pardon to convicted criminals as well as reduce or nullify court sentences, acting on the advice of the Minister of Justice.
The President has a right to be informed by the prime minister and ministers of all affairs of state.
While judges and other holders of constitutional offices such as the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman enjoy security of tenure and cannot be removed without a two-thirds majority of the House, the President is appointed and may be removed by resolution of the House backed by a simple majority. Removal of the President can only take place on the grounds of inability to perform the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause) or inappropriate behaviour.
The term of office the President otherwise lasts for five years. There is no second term.
History of the presidency
The presidency came into being on December 13, 1974 when Malta was declared a republic.
The first President was Sir Anthony Mamo, the only President who did not come with a political background. He was previously Chief Justice and Governor-General.
The other Presidents were Anton Buttigieg, Agatha Barbara, Censu Tabone, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, Guido de Marco, Eddie Fenech Adami, George Abela and Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. Paul Xuereb was acting president for just over two years. All previously served as ministers except George Abela, who was deputy leader of the Labour Party and Paul Xuereb who was an MP and later Speaker. Dr Fenech Adami was previously prime minister.
Biography: George Vella
George Vella, born on April 24, 1942, is the oldest person ever to have been appointed President and the second to come from the medical profession, the other being Ċensu Tabone.
He has lived all his life in Zejtun and is best known there as a dedicated family doctor. He graduated as a doctor in 1964 and later also specialised in aviation medicine, serving as a consultant to Air Malta and the Civil Aviation Department.
He first stood for election with the Labour Party in 1976 but was elected, by casual election in 1978. He was then elected during the general elections of 1981, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2013.
In 1992 Dr Vella turned down an invitation from then Labour leader Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici to be nominated party leader, but was then elected party deputy leader for parliamentary affairs while Alfred Sant was leader.
He was deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the Sant government between 1996 and 1998 and then in his role as shadow foreign minister along with Dr Sant, spearheaded the campaign against Malta joining the European Union, until the matter was decided by referendum.
Dr Vella is credited as having been the one to push Joseph Muscat into seeking the leadership of the Labour Party when Dr Sant resigned after losing the 2008 general election.
When Labour was returned to power in 2013 Dr Vella became Joseph Muscat’s foreign minister, focusing on broadening Malta’s relations with non-EU countries, particularly those around the Mediterranean, the United States and China. He did not seek re-election in 2017.
Dr Vella is married to Miriam (née Grima), has two daughters and a son and seven grandchildren.
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