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Giving too many awards ‘would reduce prestige’

President George Abela at an awards-giving ceremony. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

President George Abela at an awards-giving ceremony. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Broadening the scope of the Gieħ ir-Repubblika Act to include more members would reduce the prestige of receiving an award.

That’s the view of Opposition MPs, including the two PN deputy leaders, who questioned whether the amendment was being made to bestow honours on people who had supported the Labour Party in winning the elections.

Deputy Leader Mario de Marco said on Wednesday that Parliament had enacted the legislation in 1975, bringing an end to the recognition of nobility and similar titles.

The aim had been to recognise people who had given extra­ordinary services to the country. Between 1975 and 1990 only three Maltese were honoured.

The PN government, in 1990, amended the law and increased the number of persons bestowed such awards at different levels, but established the maximum number to be honoured so the awards would not be devalued.

He said the Labour Party had opposed an increase in the number of people honoured, but now the Labour government was changing its position. One had to look at these changes in the context of today’s realities.

Dr de Marco said the government should have consulted the Opposition on this Bill as he was not convinced by the reasons given for removing the capping.

He questioned whether it was to appease close acquaintances. He hoped, however, this was not the case.

The Bill provided that an award could be bestowed on a person who had already passed away and who served as an interim President of Malta. The Opposition acknowledged the works of former acting President Paul Xuereb.

Referring to an event where a hotel employee died trying to save the life of a French tourist, Dr de Marco said that one should also recognise similar acts.

Dr de Marco said that the process of giving awards should be strengthened and not weakened.

The process of giving awards should be strengthened and not weakened

The PN’s Deputy Leader for Party Affairs, Beppe Fenech Adami, said he believed the clause limiting the number of recipients should not be removed since it would diminish the value of the award.

The Bill was seemingly anomalous because, once the award was presented posthumously, it would automatically be rescinded.

Interjecting, Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici said that he had discussed this issue with the Attorney General who had confirmed that it was legally correct. However, if the Opposition believed that it was not clear enough, he was ready to amend the clause at committee stage.

Dr Fenech Adami said former President Anton Buttigieg and former Prime Minister George Borg Olivier should also be awarded such honours, albeit posthumously.

He found it painful that, among those awarded medals for honouring the country was the late North Korean President Kim Il Sung who, he said, had killed millions and brought his people to the point of starvation. “Such a tyrant certainly did not deserve to be on our list of awardees and the honour bestowed on him should be rescinded.”

Francis Zammit Dimech pointed out that the Bill should reflect the spirit of the Act’s inception, in respect towards those who received the award in the past.

It is therefore a mistake to propose that the number of beneficiaries should be unlimited.

When amendments had been suggested in past legislatures even Dr Bonnici, then an Opposition MP, was not in agreement with removing the number of beneficiaries. The fundamental principles of the Act should be retained as was originally intended.

The government cannot just decide to remove the capping because it has pressure to award more honours.

The awarding of medals with specific events should also be linked to the actual national event or their anniversary, such as the 25th, 50th or 75th. Malta should keep the same anniversary system to award medals and not increase the number of anniversaries.

The Kristy Debono award should serve as an incentive where the State would recognise advancements in sectors such as science and experimentation.

This was a unique opportunity to make a quantum leap since Maltese people were ready to recognise people who offered opportunities to the country.

One should, however, be cautious because giving several awards would reduce the prestige of those given.

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