It has been five years since Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca assumed the role of President in April 2014. A lively then-55-year-old who had been active in politics since the 1980s and who held the post of Social Policy Minister in Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s first Cabinet, President Coleiro Preca became the youngest person to assume office, and the second woman to hold the post after Agatha Barbara.
Reports from the time claimed that she was initially reluctant to resign from her ministerial position, where she held the highest rating out of all serving ministers at the time. However, she quickly took to the role with gusto, with her passion for social justice fuelling the Presidency’s raison d’être and informing her unique approach to the role of Head of State.
“This has been a working Presidency, and I have brought my passion to work with people into all of my endeavours,” she says. “Besides my duties as Head of State, I have facilitated a variety of initiatives which have brought together thousands of Maltese people and international stakeholders. We have worked on diverse social projects which aim to empower vulnerable individuals and different communities to live more dignified lives, and to be more active and engaged. We promoted child participation, we have encouraged dialogue among the many different faith traditions in the Maltese islands, and we have created opportunities for diverse groups to raise their concerns and share their aspirations.”
President Coleiro Preca at an event promoting processes of democratic participation.
Her approach to the Presidency was often strikingly informal, which drew both commendations for being ‘down to earth’, as well as criticism for doing away with the gravitas that is part and parcel of the role. In fact, one of the most memorable images of President Coleiro Preca’s time in office is of her enthusiastically embracing donors during the annual fundraising marathon L-Istrina. And under her watch, the Malta Community Chest Fund, which disburses funds raised through fund-raising activities, donations, and contributions, and is the main benefactor of the marathon, has now been granted the status of foundation. “The Malta Community Chest Fund has existed for over 60 years,” she says. “In this way, it achieved its own legal status and the transparency that it deserves.”
Other achievements which she lists with pride and which were carried out during her term in office include the establishment of the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, which promotes and gives visibility to the concept of wellbeing, ranging from mental health to freedom from drug use. “I am pleased to say that wellbeing is now a stable part of the national agenda, and through the research and activities of the Foundation, it is being shared with stakeholders in Malta and internationally,” President Coleiro Preca says. “Furthermore, I am also proud to say that the National Cancer Platform Association, set up during my Presidency, has created important synergies between civil society activists in this essential area. In this way, NGOs are able to share good practices and support one another.” She also facilitated the establishment of the President’s Trust Foundation, a private foundation that works hand-in-hand with NGOs and businesses to help the young members of vulnerable communities, and opened up the Presidential Palaces for public and civic events, explaining that she wanted to provide safe and respectful spaces that the public could engage with.
“So much of our work has focused on developing and strengthening the relationship that exists between the Presidency and the people,” she says. “I believe that this relationship is essential, because it connects the highest Office of the Republic with the daily realities of the people of our islands. This sense of connection, and service towards others, is very important to me because I have always been a passionate advocate for the values of social justice.”
President Coleiro Preca at the Turkey-Malta Business Forum
The past five years during which President Coleiro Preca served as Head of State saw Malta undergoing a rapid transformation, characterised by high rates of economic growth as well as a number of developments in various industries, including iGaming, tourism and blockchain. As President, she headed countless trade delegations that brought benefits to the Maltese business community. “It has been encouraging to see the openness of the private sector in Malta to create partnerships with their counterparts in the countries I have visited. Malta is ideally placed, in the centre of the Euro-Mediterranean region, to make such collaborations and partnerships with other countries a reality.”
Developing stronger synergies among the public sector, private sector, and civil society stakeholders, she says, is essential. “We need such partnerships and collaborations in order to take our democratic aspirations to the next level, and to ensure that sustainable peace and inclusive prosperity continue to be a priority on the national agenda.”
Never straying far from her commitment to social justice, President Coleiro Preca says she believes that businesses with a sustainable and long-term vision for the future are becoming more engaged in some form or other of corporate social responsibility. “This is why I facilitated a platform for business to engage in CSR initiatives – the CORE Platform, to encourage such endeavours. In this way, we have created a network of Maltese businesses that are working within our communities, to take their good work further.”
She is also keen on the potential that Malta’s most dynamic new industry – blockchain – has to effect change in the spheres of business as well as social good. In fact, in 2018, it was announced that the President’s Trust would be incorporating blockchain technology in the execution of its mission.
President Coleiro Preca at the signing of the MoU for the use of blockchain technology within the President's Trust
“This disruptive technology is revolutionising our islands, and our world, and creating new opportunities for businesses to expand and prosper. But it can also be a way forward for organisations focused on social good, because it encourages transparency and accountability, while also empowering donors and recipients. It can be a catalyst to transform the way in which charitable organisations are created and regulated in the future, ensuring that the funds, resources and goodwill of our countries, private sector and civil society will have the most impact for most people. This is essential to put the values of social justice and social solidarity into practical action.”
While she will no longer be the Head of State after 4th April, it is unlikely to be the last that the public hears of her. “The role of President brings a lot of responsibilities and also, some restrictions. When my term is over, I plan to continue the work I have done throughout my career and my life. I will keep striving to make a positive contribution in the lives of others, in all the ways that I can, by exploring new opportunities to make a difference. I look forward to being able to focus more of my time on pursuing the causes I am truly passionate about, and expanding upon the work that has been realised so far.”
Among the causes for which President Coleiro Preca will remain an active voice are women’s rights and gender equality. “Equality, for all of the citizens of Malta, and of our world, is a safeguard of our fundamental democratic values. We must focus our efforts to create the necessary equality, equity and inclusion, so that each and every girl and woman can be an active participant in her community and society as a whole.”
“Malta has taken many positive steps forward to include more women in the world of work and education, including policies which specifically enable women to participate in the socio-economic sector. However, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. These include the gender pay gap, the prevalence of gender-based violence, the lack of women in positions of political leadership, and the damaging effect of gender stereotyping, which is, unfortunately, still widespread.”
This interview originally appeared in The Commercial Courier