The President of the Republic of Malta officially inaugurated the country’s 14th legislature since 1964, as outgoing and new MPs took their seats today.
George Vella addressed the House, which also welcomed 12 additional female MPs co-opted under a gender quota system, outlining the Abela administration’s priorities for the next five years.
Among those priorities will be further amendments to Malta’s rules on in vitro fertilization, Vella said, with the aim of offering more hope to expectant parents wanting assisted reproduction.
It is now 10 years since Malta last banned embryo freezing under a previous nationalist administration, with new rules extending the service to all women, regardless of status or sexual orientation.
“Above all, we want an equal society,” Vella told MPs. “One of those top priorities will be giving more families a better chance of becoming parents. A number of amendments will be introduced to the laws governing IVF to offer more hope to the most potential parents. The changes would be complemented by the necessary investments to enable the process to take place.
“Equality at all levels is one of the values that must set us apart as a country,” Vella said, turning now to Malta’s parliamentary quotas for the underrepresented. Sex.
“We are starting this legislature with a more egalitarian parliament, with stronger female representation. We need to embed this principle in workplaces, especially in decision-making councils, with a number of incentives.
With Ukrainian President Volydymyr Zelenskyy now due to address the New House on Tuesday May 10, Vella reminded MPs that Malta’s neutrality should not turn a blind eye to injustice and deplorable actions.
“The pressures caused by the war in Ukraine are not diminishing at all. Firstly, we must reaffirm that this is an attack that can only be condemned… which is why Malta has implemented a number of sanctions agreed in EU fora .
“We have provided and will continue to provide humanitarian aid to help Ukrainian citizens. We continue to hear stories of destruction, death, cruelty and the loss of their homes and everything they built in their lives.
“We who are so far away are also feeling the effects of this war. Imagine how those in the middle of this feel,” Vella said.
The president said Malta was also feeling the pressures of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We have an economy that is recovering strongly from the effects of the pandemic. Last year, our country created more wealth than we had created before the pandemic… But success does not come from nothing. What is happening in the world makes it all the more important that we never lose sight of the effective management of our economy.
“War has an impact on the prices of essential goods such as energy, food and freight. The government is not only aware of these challenges, but is constantly pursuing discussions to counter this impact. As it has done during the pandemic, the government will make sure to support people and businesses.
Vella toasted Malta’s economic growth rate and Malta’s record unemployment rate, but said the success of Malta’s economic formula will always depend on the extent of wealth redistribution.
Malta will see a further reduction in income tax rates, tax refunds, but will also impose new obligations for sustainable business practices.
“Reducing business taxes should lead to a move towards more sustainable operations, more productive job creation and increased investment in research and innovation.”
Vella also said the labor administration will boost the country’s standards following a positive report from the Council of Europe’s Moneyval and implement recommendations agreed with the Financial Action Task Force with the aim of removing Malta from the FATF gray list.
Vella also said Malta would continue to register improvements in areas of governance, also linked to its recent setback from the FATF.
“No country or individual is perfect, but we can strive for Malta to be at the forefront of modern democracies, with strong rule of law systems. This requires reforms to have more modern judicial processes , because the administration of effective justice must be a basic principle in today’s world.
“We will continue to intensify reforms, but as in other sectors, we want justice to be oriented in a way that better understands the realities of those who face its practitioners and those who exercise it. Justice is blind, but it must be sensible and sensitive to changing social realities.
Digital transition, environmental sustainability, climate neutral Gozo
An important element of Malta’s economic development will be the use of EU funds which will contribute to the island’s digital transition and the decarbonisation of the country’s economy.
“Gozo, where we will guarantee that at least 10% of all European funds will be allocated, will be where we carry out one of the most ambitious environmental projects. So much so that we are aiming for this island to be the first part of the country to become climate neutral.
“While these environmental and digital transformations are significant challenges, they have the potential to be the best economic opportunities we have ever had in this generation.”
Vella said the pandemic had revealed the importance of the digital economy and said Malta needed to invest heavily to become a leader in these new sectors.
“This will require a leap forward in skills and innovation in our education system. Digitization must be strong in the public sector, which must ensure that it is a tool to offer a better service to the citizen, to reduce bureaucracy.
Quality of life and environment
Vella said that while it was important to protect the material livelihoods of citizens, especially those of low-income groups, labor administration would focus on quality of life in terms of health, environment, labor work-life balance and safety.
“It is time that in addition to talking about statistics and figures, we have indicators on the quality of life of people and that this measurement is another key consideration in any project or initiative of the public administration and the government.
“Our obligation is to safeguard the interests of future generations – not only those unborn, but those young among us who are beginning in the world and deserve the best care and attention our society has to offer.”
Vella said the administration will treat the environment as a key objective, with the same emphasis that previous administrations have placed on the country’s infrastructure.
“It is not enough to protect the natural environment of our country – it is an obligation that all those who belong to public entities have through decisions that can affect the state of the Maltese natural environment.
“But we need to be innovative about new public and open spaces in urban areas – and plan more carefully to safeguard the unique characteristics of our towns and cities, an important part of our identity and the face of our nation. It must be the main administration to invest for this purpose. 700 million euros will therefore be allocated to these projects.
Vella also said that reaching climate neutrality by 2050 will require an electric transport fleet, alternative modes of transport, but also fundamentally changing the treatment of waste and making it an alternative energy source.
“The reality is that if our environment isn’t taken care of, our economy can’t continue to function.
“The government will be there to support these changes. But we will also need a change in our culture. We need to understand that if we really care about our children, now is the time to take decisive action for the environment. Not only do we expect others to make decisions for us, but we reflect this new priority in the decisions we make every day as citizens, from the smallest to the largest. The government will continue to encourage environmentally friendly choices.
Vella said the Abela administration would also commit to increasing leave for caregivers, the introduction of parental leave and the right to disconnect, and the need to tackle cyberbullying.
“We need to protect children and teens from modern-day dangers, including cyberbullying, and ensure they know how to use social media and the various technologies available to them wisely…
“We need to see our children healthy, and for that reason it is important that this administration’s commitment to identify physical, intellectual, social and educational challenges as early as possible. This applies not only to children , but to all groups in our society, all of us who, throughout our lives, face different mental health problems.
“We can say that society supports everyone in need, when we break the mental health stigma once and for all. When mental health challenges are addressed as much as any other health issue, on which we do not hesitate to seek help from our doctors.
The coming years will be crucial for our country to reach the fullness of specialized and free services in the mental health sector, projects that go beyond what we have had so far, reaching out to all those who need it.