1913 - 2012

 PRESIDENT OF MALTA (1989 - 1994)


Dr. Censu Tabone, M.D., D.O. (Oxon), D.O.M.S. (Lond), D.M.J., F.R.C.S. (Edin), F.I.C.S., K.U.O.M., LL.D. (Hon Causa); was born in Victoria, Gozo on 30th March 1913 and was educated at St. Aloysius College and the University of Malta where he graduated as a Pharmacist in 1933 and as a Doctor of Medicine in 1937. On the 23rd November 1943 he married Maria Wirth and had three sons and five daughters.

During World War II he joined the Royal Malta Artillery and served as a regimental Medical Officer, as a general duty officer and later as a trainee ophthalmic specialist at the Military Hospital , Mtarfa. In 1946 he proceeded to the United Kingdom for further training in ophthalmology and in the same year obtained a Diploma in Ophthalmology of the University of Oxford . Later he obtained a Diploma in Ophthalmic Medicine and Surgery of the Conjoint Board of the Royal College of Surgeons of England .

He returned to Malta in 1947 and since then has been engaged in ophthalmic practice and has held senior posts in various hospitals. In 1945 he was entrusted with the anti-trachoma campaign in Gozo, with the result that in due course the disease was practically eliminated from the Island . This campaign was in many ways a pioneer project as were those of the World Health Organisation which he helped launch in many countries, notably in Taiwan , Indonesia and Iraq . He was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1949. From 1956 he served as a member of the International Panel of Trachoma Experts of WHO and was a consultant with this Organisation for many years.

In 1954 he founded the Medical Officers Union, now the Medical Association (M.A.M.) and for many years was its president. In 1953 he obtained a Diploma in medical Jurisprudence of the Society of Apothecaries of London. Dr. Tabone has also been a member of the Council of the University of Malta , a member of the Faculty Board of Medicine from 1957 to 1960 and lecturer in Clinical Ophthalmology in the Department of Surgery.

Dr. Tabone has been active in politics since the early sixties and in 1961 became a member of the Nationalist Party's (NP) Executive Committee. For ten years, from 1962 to 1972, he was Secretary General and from 1972 to 1977 the First Deputy Leader of the NP. In 1978 he was elected President of the Executive Committee. He held this post up to August 1985.

Dr. Tabone contested the General Elections for the first time in the interests of the NP in 1962. In 1966 he was elected a Member of Parliament and became Minister of Labour, Employment and Welfare. As Minister of Labour he was in the forefront of the Borg Olivier government's battles with GWU militancy, particularly in the dockyard.  He was re-elected in 1971, 1976, 1981 and 1987 and the districts he represented included Msida, St.Julians, Sliema and Gzira. He represented the Nationalist Parliamentary Group in the Council of Europe since 1973 and was Party Spokesman on Foreign Affairs since 1978. He was a member of various Council of Europe Committees for several years and rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee, of the Committee of Health and Social Affairs, and of the Committee for European non-member countries of which he has also been President. He was the Founder of the 'Akkademja Ghall-Izvilupp ta' l-Ambjent Demokratiku' (AZAD) and was its President from 1976 to 1988.

After the elections of May 1987, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1968, when he was then Minister of Labour, Employment and Welfare, he made a proposal at the United Nations in New York for the greater attention to the ageing population of the World, which in time led to the Vienna Action Plan on Ageing, and in 1988 the establishment of the U.N. Institute on Ageing in Malta . In September 1988 he made a proposal in the United Nations in New York that climate should be considered as a common heritage of mankind. Within three months this led to the drafting of a U.N. resolution of Climate Change to reduce man-made actions which are at the root of such a change. As foreign minister, he had the task of restoring Malta's international standing after the Mintoff years. His staff quickly came to know about his boundless energy - he quickly dozed off while travelling, and was alert and ready for work as soon as he landed.

On the 16th March, 1989, Dr. Tabone tendered his resignation as Minister of Foreign Affairs and member of the House of Representatives; and on the 4th April of the same year he was elected by Parliament as the fourth President of Malta.

When he was appointed President in 1989  amid the political divisions of the time, he was boycotted by the Labour Party. But such was his character, that he won the hears and minds of all the people, to the extent that by the time his term ended in 1994, Labour had dropped its boycott, and actually asked if he could stay on.

As President, he welcomed Presidents Bush and Gorbachev for their superpower summit in Malta and also welcomed Pope John Paul II on his first visit to the island as well as Queen Elizabeth, with whom he dedicated the Siege Bell Memorial in Valletta on the fiftieth anniversary of the award of the George Cross.

Dr Tabone passed away on Wednesday 14th March 2012.  He was just short of his 99th birthday.

In November 2011 Dr Tabone celebrated the 70th anniversary of his marriage to Maria.They had eight children, 19 grand children and 24 great grandchildren.

Dr Tabone had a mania for being punctual and, not surprisingly, he had a hobby of repairing clocks. He also attended daily Mass for most of his life.

Diplomas, qualifications, decorations, awards, etc.:-

Awarded testimonial by the Secretary General of the United Nations in recognition of his dedicated service in support of the United Nations programme on Aging.

    Degree of Doctor of Laws LL.D. (Hons Causa) by the University of Malta .

      Companion of Honour of the Order of Merit (K.U.O.M.)

      Special Grade of Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

       'Pro Merito' Medal from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 

      Awarded Presidential Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

      Grand Collar of the Order of Makarios III.

      Cavaliere Di Gran Croce decorato con Gran Cordone al Merito.

      M.D. (Hons. Causa) by the Beijing Medical College, China


Interview on The Times

Censu Tabone, 89, feels too many people are living in the past

Steve Mallia

I had initially set myself a challenge to try and write about Dr Tabone without mentioning his age, or saying that he spends much of his time surfing the internet, pottering around in his workshop or tinkering with one of his beloved clocks.

This should not have been impossible given that the former consultant ophthalmologist, foreign minister and President can fill many interesting minutes with stories to take your mind off such trivia, while the wife he has quarrelled with "over everything and nothing" in a most loving marriage stretching 60 years presents you with chocolate biscuits and coffee.

But the man who believes there is no better guide for governing the world than the 10 commandments, confesses that he cannot fry an egg and describes an hour`s nap on the armchair in the afternoon as the most important sleep of his life, set one condition himself: "Please don`t get me into any political controversy."

One formidable task is enough to contend with, so I will immediately concede defeat on the first count, inform your disbelieving eyes that he turned 89 last month, and make my first half-hearted attempt to honour the second by recording that Dr Tabone thinks the partisan two-party system is a remnant of Malta`s unfortunate colonial mentality.

"This mentality makes me exceedingly angry. I have been against colonialism ever since I could reason and that was why I entered politics, to help achieve independence. Colonialism has done a lot of harm in the world. Some good.... but at what price? At the price of servitude.

"Even now political parties bring over foreign sponsors to uphold their view of whether we should join the EU or not and convert our people.

"The foreign part of our culture is appreciated more than our own, which we Maltese are building up slowly and not very easily. This is what offends me."

Just in case you were in any doubt, Dr Tabone can still pack a punch, even if it is quite a charming one. However, much as the idealist in him is against the divisive nature of partisanship, the pragmatist can see no other alternative to political parties in a democracy, though he adds that they could do more to improve the situation in this country.

He believes that many people are still living in the past, and thinking in a way that is no longer valid today.

"Take the anti-globalisation movement; I am also anti-global, but you can`t change it."

The same must apply, he says, to the definition of what is an independent state today. The old concept of independence, where a country was lord and master, has been and gone, he maintains.

"Today, after September 11, even the most powerful nation in the world cannot be independent in that sense because it has been brought to its knees by 19 people."

Dr Tabone says that even the concept of sovereignty has changed and the most important factor today is maintaining security on the island. However, he does not believe that Malta can do this alone.

"If the US cannot defend its own security by itself, how can we? This is an aspect which is never mentioned in the talks about the EU.

"I used to push the concept that we should protect our security by signing agreements with countries that thought like us and had an interest and the power to defend us. But after a number of wars it is clear that no one wants to send their own children to die for others.

"Malta could be taken by a small military or naval force in a short time as we are hardly in a position to defend ourselves, and our limited defence capabilities could be an invitation to some as yet unforeseen power to take us on.

"Therefore, being part of a continent which has made common defence a policy is our only means of security. I can see no other. But they only have to defend us if we are members. They would have no obligation to do so otherwise. No one owes us a living, though we believe that sometimes."

However, the man who served as a medical officer during the Second World War favours neutrality and is against the idea of having foreign troops in Malta. He is also opposed to Malta forming part of a powerful military group such as Nato.

That said, Dr Tabone believes the island cannot be indifferent to what is going on around it, such as the crisis in the Middle East, and is vociferous in his view that Palestine has a right to a state of its own.

If talking about the EU with anybody in this country is like walking on eggshells, then raising the subject with a former President who wants to be spared controversy throws up the prospect of drowning in a raw omelette.

Dr Tabone starts gently by saying that the EU question is not being very well proposed or opposed because certain issues are not mentioned. All "they" mention, he says, is how the hunters, agriculture and shoemakers will be affected.

"This is not the real issue of being in Europe. We cannot forget that Europe is a Europe of independent states and if we enter the EU we will have the greatest certificate of our independence. If you are not independent, you are not allowed in. So this movement of independence is a farcical one.

"We shall be voluntarily giving up some of our decision-making, and sharing in much wider decisions which will affect us whether we go in or not. But at least we will be there to express our views. This is the point."

Dr Tabone is perhaps in a better position than most to understand the concerns and doubts of those against membership because he had opposed it himself for a time while he was in the Nationalist Party as he feared Malta would once again become a colony.

His mind had been changed by the direction of his own political party and as a result of a meeting with a European Commissioner in Brussels.

But he stresses the caveat that he has always maintained: "Yes we should join, but under the right conditions.`"

"That is how the motion passed in the (Nationalist Party) executive and yet it is only sometimes mentioned. The result will only come at the end of the debate on the future of Europe. The crux of the matter, and the question of sovereignty and whatnot, will lie in the way power is distributed between the Commission and individual governments."

Dr Tabone says he is glad that Labour leader Alfred Sant is taking part in this debate, though he adds that the division in Malta on the subject is weakening the country`s bargaining position.

"We are enemies instead of being holders of different views. This is our biggest drawback."

Should the Church be contributing to the EU debate?

"No, no, no. And it is a mistake for anyone to push the bishops to speak about Europe, quoting the Pope."

Dr Tabone believes the pastoral letter written by the Bishops of Malta and Gozo is "perfect", particularly as the issue in Malta is purely political in his view.

"But whether we go in or stay out, our religion will not be affected in any way. It will be affected by our behaviour and by our Christian values which are going away... The two Gozitan bishops were wise not to yield," he maintains.

There is another thing of which he is unequivocally certain: that a referendum is the only way of knowing the people`s mind. He says that in an election there are many issues, whereas in a referendum there is only one. "If there is any other way of knowing the people`s will, please suggest it to me."

Moreover, he argues that the electorate has very little power in between elections, which is one of the defects of democracy.

Dr Tabone says that although democracy is the best political system known to man, efforts should be made to try and limit its defects, though no one seemed willing to try.

"One could, for example, limit the period of those elected or appointed to important political positions to no more than two consecutive terms."

He said that MPs and ministers did not always feel the mood of the electorate before important decisions between elections and only had their conscience to rely on. Moreover, some stayed on a little too long.

"But we have been fortunate in our political representation over the years and nothing I am saying about the defects of democracy takes anything away from them."

Turning to his own political career, Dr Tabone describes his stint as foreign minister between 1987 and 1989 as the period he most enjoyed. He was then appointed President, just two years into the watershed Nationalist legislature.

Did it come too soon?

"I never sought the Presidency... for me it was always too soon as I was enjoying my life as foreign minister. Fully enjoying it."

However, despite the Labour Party`s three-year boycott of his Presidency, which he says was quite unjust and hurt a lot, he made such a success of the post that the MLP then proposed him for a second term.

"I would not have accepted another term because I do not agree with it in principle. However, I would have stayed for another year but the Nationalist Party did not approve the extension.

"And then, when Ugo (Mifsud Bonnici) finished as President, the PN proposed him to serve another term. So anyone can see the story for themselves and draw their own conclusions. I am not commenting on it, but I am stating facts..."

He firmly believes that a President should serve for six years, instead of five, to make sure that he is outside the duration of the two legislatures. "That should be entrenched and it is not. Any government can change that," he says.

Whatever the duration, he believes that the post-holder needs to have an in-depth knowledge of local politics because every decision a President takes, although not executive, is political. Otherwise, he says, he would need political advisers and they would be the actual presidents.

Just because Dr Tabone is retired does not mean he is not preoccupied with the country`s domestic problems. Among them is the economic situation, which he says is worrying him a lot.

He believes the greatest political event to have negatively affected Malta in the economic sense was the fall of the Berlin wall - because it made Eastern Europe competitive.

"We cannot get any more foreign investment in Malta because the European or foreign investors can find cheaper places to produce their products."

He only sees two ways out of the problem: One is to reduce the standard of living, which he says is unthinkable, while the other remedy lies in increasing production.

"We can produce more. We have not changed the half-days in summer. This is the greatest calamity and no government has dared take it away."

"A solution to this two-month period has to be found, but we have to have the support of the unions. It`s no use going against them."

He points to his native Gozitans as a shining example of people who have overcome their natural handicaps by producing quality and quantity.

In fact, he would like to see the two islands linked, not merely by a bridge, but by road made from the country`s building waste as long as such a project was carefully planned and regulated.

Dr Tabone believes Gozo would only lose its charm if "stupid" governments granted unnecessary building permits as they had done at some locations in Malta.

"We can`t leave Gozo as a presepju," he says, and bolsters his argument by explaining how Venice flourished once it was joined to the mainland.

Perhaps Dr Tabone has been in the politically uncontroversial wilderness for a little too long.