George Vella will be sworn in as Malta’s 10th President today and, at 76, will become the oldest president since the country became a republic.
While the president’s executive powers are limited and while the role is largely a ceremonial one, the position will give Vella a significant platform with which he can address and influence society and politics.
With this in mind, this is what we would like George Vella to focus on throughout the next five years of his presidency.
1. The deteriorating state of the environment
More and more patches of green are being replaced by concrete, trees are being displaced for the sake of wider roads and it seems like you cannot go anywhere without spotting a crane nowadays.
It is the flip side of Malta’s booming economic growth and it is clearly starting to frustrate the public, with a recent Lovin Malta survey showing that the environment is a top concern among youths.
2. Malta’s mad property prices
The growing supply of properties does not appear to be making a significant impact on the housing market and it has now become impossible to buy an apartment for €100,000 or rent one out for less than €500 a month.
This has led to a sinking realisation among youths that the only way they can afford to buy their own property is if they go halfway with a partner or if a parent helps out. This has become one of the main social problems of our days and, if Vella intends to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and bring social aspect to the presidency, speaking about it would be a great place to start.
3. Integration of migrant communities
Maltese society has changed rapidly in recent years and thousands of people from all over the planet, from Venezuela to Bangladesh, now call this island their home. Such rapid changes in society will invariably create problems, and it has become paramount for the country to take integration seriously so as to avoid potentially dangerous culture clashes in the future.
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca had often stuck her neck out when promoting integration, and it would be a welcome development if Vella follows suit.
4. Reforming the Constitution
Constitutional reform has remained stuck in the pipeline for several years now, but it accelerated in recent months when a steering committee, spearheaded by Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, was set up to discuss it.
This committee will now fall under Vella’s remit, and it is crucial that he gives it importance, as constitutional reform could lead to much-needed changes, particularly with regards to improving the separation of powers and granting more powers and independence to the police, as well as other authorities and institutions.
5. Improving good governance
The report released by GRECO yesterday makes for sad, but hardly unexpected, reading.
To quote it, “there is a feeling in the public that senior officials benefit from a total impunity for their actions” and the country “clearly lacks an overall strategy when it comes to integrity standards for government officials”.
This will admittedly be tricky ground for Vella to tackle, as good governance issues so often tend to be appropriated by political parties and it is crucial that a president isn’t seen as biased towards a particular party. Yet ignoring the wound as it festers should not be an option either.
6. The debate on gender quotas
Malta will revert from having a young female president to another elderly man with typically socially conservative views, and as such it will be interesting to see what Vella makes of the gender quota system that was recently proposed by the government.
Only 27 women have been elected to Parliament since Malta achieved independence and Vella must remember a good few of them. Does he think the situation for aspiring female politicians has improved in any way since the 70s and does he think the proposed tinkering of the electoral system is a necessary evil?
7. Brunei’s new stoning law for LGBT people
As a former foreign affairs minister, Vella could well seek to give the presidency an international dimension. And what better way to start than to criticise fellow Commonwealth member Brunei’s new law that makes anal sex punishable by stoning to death?
Taking that position will also go some way to appeasing critics who have flagged his stance against gay marriage as a reason he shouldn’t be made president.
8. Reforming the Corradino prison
The public recently got a taste of what life is like at the Corradino prison when inmates were given the opportunity to speak out and vent on Xarabank. While the new prison director appears to be making serious inroads in tackling the prison’s drug problem, the situation there remains far from perfect.
Violent and non-violent criminals are still sharing the same space, education and work opportunities are extremely limited and mundane, and rats apparently infest some areas too.
A nation is measured by how it treats its weakest members and prisoners certainly fall into that category.
9. The rapid pace of technological developments
Technological advancements are occurring at such a rapid pace that trying to keep up will leave you breathless. There’s no doubt that digitalisation has led to benefits in several fields, such as combatting crime, rendering services more efficient and accessible and opening access to information on a grand scale.
While debate on its downsides is still in its infancy stage, it is certainly starting to pick up, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat even warning recently that messaging apps and social media are contributing to an epidemic of loneliness. Privacy concerns are also rife, and there seems to be a growing realisation that the more digitalised your life gets, the more it can be tracked.
With Malta now seeking to both utilise cutting-edge technologies and attract companies which develop them, the new President can take a leading role in this debate.