Interview with H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca,
President of Malta
As President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca’s term comes to an end, VIDA spoke to her on her efforts during the past five years to modernise the institution and bring it closer to the people, her philanthropic initiatives and her role in the Constitutional reform.
How would you summarise the Presidency under your tenure?
It is impossible to summarise all of the work that has been done over the past years.
We have worked tirelessly to bring together thousands of Maltese people and international stakeholders, to discuss the most important issues facing today’s world.
These include the challenges of climate change, social inclusion, the celebration of diversity, and commitment to the principles of universal human rights.
My Presidency has also focused on making practical efforts, to translate the values of social justice into a reality in the lives of our Maltese communities. I believe that whenever people promote solidarity, by working together to achieve the common good, then the whole of our society is enriched.
For this reason, I opened the Presidential Palaces to be palaces of, and for, the people. These safe, respectful, and inclusive spaces have created a context for important dialogues, about the concerns and aspirations of the people of Malta and Gozo.
In an interview carried out at the start of your Presidency you noted “I bring in a working person’s perspective, rather than that of a retired person.” In what way has such a perspective helped to make the Presidency more active and closer to the people?
I have always been committed to actively connecting with diverse communities, by listening to the aspirations and concerns of people.
In this way, I hope I have worked to bring the Presidency closer to the daily lives of the people of our country, and provide a space for dialogue and connection.
For example, I have made sure that the girls and young women of our islands are active participants in the Girl2Leader Campaign, of which I am patron. This international initiative, facilitated by the World Women Leaders Global Forum, is sharing an important message of gender justice and empowerment.
You have often stressed on the fact that you are “a people’s president.” Can you elaborate?
One clear example, which I have already mentioned, is the way in which the Presidential palaces have been opened, to make them palaces for the people. I have always done my best to listen to the diverse communities in Maltese society.
In particular, during my term as President, I have created spaces for vulnerable individuals, families, and groups to feel respected. Too often, people who are experiencing vulnerability and precarity also suffer from social exclusion, because their concerns are not heard, and appropriate action is not always taken.
In what way do you feel the institution has been modernised under your tenure?
To me, modernising the Presidency has meant the efforts that have been made, to ensure that the Office of the President and the role of the President accurately reflect the needs and aspirations of the people of Malta, in the twenty-first century.
I augur that the focus we have placed on community engagement, across all sectors and strata of society, will continue to be taken forward, and remain a defining characteristic of the Presidency.
Another example of modernisation, in a more tangible sense, has been the extensive renovations that have been made to the Presidential palaces.
These palaces are a cornerstone of the cultural and historical heritage of the people of Malta and Gozo. For this reason, I was so proud to support the Sustainable Regeneration of Built Heritage project, carried out by Perit Amber Wismayer. Over four years, she has done groundbreaking research in the area of energy conservation and occupant wellbeing in heritage buildings.
San Anton Palace was a laboratory for this research, which will have benefits for the future of architectural heritage throughout the Maltese Islands and beyond.
How has the Presidency contributed to less poverty, inequality and discrimination?
Through its various initiatives, the Presidency has brought together academics, professionals, and stakeholders from diverse fields, including economics, law, healthcare, education, the private sector, and social
policy, amongst others.
For example, over the years, the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society has published a number of research studies and recommendations, some of which have been taken up in official policy and legislation.
Another essential contribution is our work to put the concept of wellbeing on the national agenda. Before we were focusing on this area, it was not part of mainstream discourse in this country. However, now, it is a cornerstone of how we perceive the sustainable development of our society.
Through the projects of the President’s Trust Foundation, we are aiming to empower young people to achieve their aspirations. These have included tangible initiative to provide an empowerment programme for young mothers, and to encourage literacy and solidarity among Maltese children, including those with visual impairments. We have also facilitated an annual Readathon in collaboration with the National Literacy Agency and the National School Support Services.
The raising of funds by the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation constitutes only 5% of all the work done during your tenure. What was the core work done during the past years?
The Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation provides access to life saving treatment and care. As Chair of the Board of Governors, which develops policy, I have seen it as my responsibility to keep in touch with the vulnerable members of our society to ensure that the policies of the MCCFF are reflecting the needs, and providing the necessary support, for these vulnerable people and families.
For this reason, I transformed the MCCFF into a Foundation, to ensure that it has the necessary autonomy and transparency.
However, my other work has been equally important. Through my Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, for example, we have created strong partnerships both within the European Union and beyond, in the area of children’s rights and child participation.
The President’s Secret Garden methodology which we developed has been exported to other countries, because it provides an inspiring example of how our children and young people can participate, as active contributors to society.
The President’s Trust Foundation has undertaken numerous projects that specifically target issues of social concern. For example, it has developed an employment initiative to empower young people living in precarity, and another initiative that is supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds and socially deprived areas.
I have also focused on the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights in numerous ways. One example is the support I have given to establish the European Observatory on Femicide at the University of Malta. This observatory is providing essential data about the deadly violence that is being endured by women and girls, all over Europe, and what we can do to stop this terrible scourge.
In what way have you offered a stronger voice to NGOs?
I have focused on creating synergies among the public sector, private sector, and civil society, both as Minister and as President. I believe that such collaborations are essential, because they ensure that our democracy will continue to be healthy.
We must keep encouraging such partnerships and collaborations, in order to take our democratic aspirations to the next level of effectiveness. In this way, we will ensure that sustainable peace and inclusive prosperity are always a priority on the national agenda.
When I set up the CORE Platform, it was to bring businesses together with civil society groups, and to promote the corporate social responsibility endeavours of our private sector stakeholders.
You spearhead the steering committee on Constitutional reform. How will such reforms contribute to a more relevant constitution?
As I have stated in my various speeches on Republic Day, the reform of our constitution is an opportunity for the people of Malta and Gozo to have an active role in the relationship that is established, by the Constitution, between the State and its citizens.
Reform is part of what makes the Constitution a living document, capable of reflecting the present day aspirations and concerns of Maltese people. I will ensure that this process is inclusive and transparent, and engages with communities throughout our Maltese society.
In a recent interview you noted, “The presidency, like any other constitutional institution, also needs to be reviewed.” In what way?
I believe that the role of the President has changed since it was first introduced. There is so much for the President of the Republic to offer, in terms of being an impartial and objective voice in our society.
Furthermore, as well as defending and upholding the Constitution, the President has the opportunity to take an active role as a defender of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. During these uncertain times in the history of our world, we need more champions of these rights and freedoms, which safeguard the dignity of all of us.
What legacy will you leave?
I hope that my legacy will be reflected in the work that I have done. Opening the Presidential Palaces to make them safe spaces for the people, and to encourage opportunities for dialogue and connection, is one part of this legacy, which I would love to leave. Ensuring that wellbeing becomes part of our national discourse and policy is another, as well as promoting the active participation and inclusion of all our citizens, including child participation.
I believe that our people should be in control of their own lives and able to fulfil their aspirations, by feeling engaged as active citizens of our democracy.
Above all, I augur that my legacy will be a celebration of the principles of social justice. We must keep reaching out across social and cultural borders, to build bridges which unite the diversity of Maltese society.
© 2019 – VIDA Magazine