In my political life, I have grown accustomed to the fact that when we propose real change, the traditional conservative forces invariably come out and oppose it. I see this process as a confirmation per se that the change we are pushing forward is indeed a positive and concrete one and a step in the right direction.
It is only Labour that can implement change in our country. The Nationalist Party and fellow conservative forces have time and time again been on the wrong side of history each time real, robust and strong social reforms have been undertaken in our country. It happened with divorce, equal marriage and up until recently cannabis reform to name the first ones which come to mind.
During the last couple of days, a number of conservative exponents in our country came out to throw everything they have at a historical bill which purports to introduce the concept of “femicidal circumstances” which, if present, would empower the Court to impose a graver penalty on a man found guilty of the murder (or the attempted murder) of a woman in our criminal code than the situation obtaining today.
They said that such a proposition is discriminatory and would be problematic from the legal point of view.
Mind you, the bill which Parliament will start debating in the coming days was discussed, dissected and agreed upon with scholars and authors of the calibre of Dr Lara Dimitrijevic, Dr Marceline Naudi and Dr Claire Azzopardi Lane, amongst others. But let us focus on whether the claim that the bill is discriminatory on the basis of gender holds any water.
I believe that, with all due respect, the answer lies in the provisions of the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence which is commonly known as the Istanbul Convention (11.V.2011). Malta has duly ratified the Istanbul as have more than other 40 other European countries as well as the European Union.
To the question of whether it is permissible to have statutory provisions which stipulate a higher penalty in case a murder occurs against a particular gender (female), the answer lies in article 4(4) of the Convention which reads a follows: Special measures that are necessary to prevent and protect women from gender-based violence shall not be considered discrimination under the terms of this Convention.
With regards to the question of whether it is permissible to have statutory provisions which stipulate that particular provisions enter into effect if a murder is committed by a particular gender (male), it is advisable to read the preamble to the treaty and explanatory report of the convention. I will make a reference to the following parts of the preamble:
Recognising that the realization of de jure and de facto equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women;
Recognising that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over, and discrimination against, women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women;
Recognising the structural nature of violence against women as gender-based violence, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men;
Unfortunately, the reality is that some conservative authors fail to acknowledge the disproportionate discrimination that women, unfortunately, face by men. They fail to call a spade a spade. It is through strong and historic reforms such as the one which we have proposed on femicide that effective measures are taken to try and compensate for the scientifically and empirically proven situation as expounded in the Istanbul Convention itself.
As a Minister, legislator and more importantly a father to a daughter, I appeal for unity on this crucial and sensitive subject.
Since 2017, this Government has embarked on the largest infrastructure projects in the history of our country. We immediately realized that a thriving economy had to be supported by unprecedented infrastructural investment.
Certain projects, such as the Central Link, have been on paper for decades. We delivered.
We have invested a total of €140 million in 7 projects: in the Central Link, in the Marsa Junction, in Tal-Balal, in the Ħamrun-Marsa Bypass, in Triq Buqana, in Santa Luċija and in Triq Sant ’ Andrija.
People will be the end beneficiaries of these projects by saving time, lower costs for businesses and lower emissions.
I am very sensitive to the claims that environmental considerations are often sacrificed for the sake of economic development. I believe that when it comes to infrastructure, the environment cannot and should not take the back seat but should at the very least complement the development taking place.
To be fair, the Central Link project will make people's lives easier and will reduce the negative impact on car air quality.
In the meantime, I want to applaud other initiatives that were taken, such as the decision to extend the free public transport service for about 80,000 people and by next October, for all.
Also, for those who still want to use their private car, we have introduced unprecedented incentives where if one substitutes a normal car running on petrol or diesel in favour of an electric one, the government effectively pays half the price. These are all steps in the right direction.
We will remain a Government of incentives, not punishment.
LOWEST POVERTY RATE
Even during a pandemic, we have managed to continue to reduce poverty.
A European Commission report places Malta with the lowest absolute poverty rate among all European Union countries. Malta also has the lowest rate of children in a situation of absolute poverty throughout the European Union.
There are several factors and decisions that lead to this encouraging result, such as the way we managed to foster a healthy labor market. The most recent NSO statistics show that the number of unemployed people fell to 1,167.
At the same time, the number of people registering for work has also continued to decline for 20 months in a row.
Today we are talking about unemployment which is less than 15% of what it was in 2013.
Dependence on social benefits has also been halved.
In the context of a pandemic, people have found a government that has kept opportunities alive, adding support and improving people's quality of life.