Meeting with Hon. Francis Zammit Dimech

Hon. Zammit Dimech was interviewed on his view of leadership. Here he gives us an insight into how he defines leadership: I would define leadership as the ability to provide motivation to others to work towards goals that will offer a sense of fulfilment to all concerned.  Leadership should be about empowering the persons around you rather than about empowering yourself. Much depends on a leader’s capability to remain close to the people around him, to feel and know their needs, to genuinely care for others, and to understand that over and above any other consideration leadership is about being of service to others.

One of the leaders that I have most admired is Martin Luther King.  He peacefully managed to bring about an entire revolution in the United States of America based on the fundamental value of equality irrespective of colour, race or other considerations.  His message based on the concept of ‘strength to love’ also meant having the courage to resist sinister and established forces. In particular I admire his message against fear in the sense that when fear knocked on the door, courage answered and then there was no one there.  Other leaders whom I have admired include Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who again proved that through persistence, one can prevail over forces which initially try to project themselves as insurmountable but ultimately only manage to prevail over others until the people discover their own power and will have the courage to stand up and be counted. We also asked Hon. Zammit Dimech who have been some of the most influential leaders in his life. By far the most influential leader in my life has been Dr Eddie Fenech Adami.  He had the courage, strength and vision to salvage democracy in our country and provide leadership through some of the most turbulent years in our recent history.  He was also the person to see to Malta’s membership of the European Union overcoming those who spoke disparagingly against the ability of the Maltese people to make it in Europe.  Eddie was on the right side of history, and his belief in values and in the concept that right will always prevail provided the courage that people needed even when they felt that they were at a total disadvantage against the super powerful government in office!  Ultimately Dr Fenech Adami stood for having full trust in the people and in their abilities. The people were only too happy to reciprocate that trust.

Hon. Zammit Dimech goes on to tell us what some of the most defining leadership moments of his life have been; One of the most defining leadership moments in my life and which still provides me with immense satisfaction was the vision to transform St James Cavalier from a Government Printing Press into a Centre for Creativity.  I had managed to convince my colleagues in Cabinet that this must be Malta’s millennium project and St James Cavalier as cherished and known today was inaugurated at the stroke of midnight – 31st December 1999 ushering in 1st January 2000.  The transformation of St James Cavalier which now includes spaces for visual arts, a theatre in the round, an artistic cinema, a music room and creativity spaces which are aimed first and foremost for children and young people also meant that what was originally constructed as a building to keep away any insurgents, becomes a building that reaches out to people and welcomes them within its area to be expressive, to enjoy the arts, to participate in artistic and cultural events and to be enriched by the experience.  Another defining leadership moment  for me was the setting up of Malta International Airport as a company that could eventually have its shares owned by the private sector, not least by as many private shareholders as possible.  The decision was taken to coincide with the inauguration of the new airport in 1992 and meant that we would not be content with a new building, impressive as it was, without having new administrative and governance structures to run that building – and making the leap from a Government department to a commercial company – with all that then implied, not least breaking the monopoly that hitherto existed in the sales of duty free items sector.  One more defining moment for me which required resilience and courage was opening up in favour of low cost carriers.  We tend to take carriers such as Ryan Air and Easy Jet for granted and forget the revolution and complete change of mind set that we had to go for in pointing out that that was the way forward despite understandable resistance our own national carrier which in turn meant strong resistance even from some of my own colleagues at the political level!

We also find out what he is passionate about: I am truly passionate about anything linked to the arts and culture.  I believe that we are more complete and fulfilled as human beings when we learn to appreciate the different art and cultural forms.  It is a mistake to be prejudiced in favour of one form of expression over another – such as preferring classical music over modern, or figurative art over abstract. The truth is that within every genre there are brilliant creations and those which are far less so.  What we need is to develop a critical faculty through which we can analyse and appreciate better the different forms through which the arts and culture are conveyed to us.  Moreover, I make as much time as I can to read – and my reading ranges from the latest political works, books that convey philosophical messages, auto-biographies and why not: well written fiction.  I am then passionate about the need to keep on learning.  Only a fool would assume that he knows it all!  A person remains wise and even becomes wiser as long as he understands that there is much more to learn than he can ever manage and as long as he remains open to different perspectives and opinions. I am moreover a firm believer that honesty is the most important value in our lives and we need to strive constantly to know as well as defend the truth.  Without honesty there can be no true and genuine communication – not at the personal level and even less at the public level.  If you share an opinion with me, I know that I have every right to contest it and form a different opinion. If on the other hand you present me with facts, I expect those facts to be facts because facts are sacred, and no ‘post truth’ spins and manipulation can ever justify any person resorting to lies or manipulation. If a person is in public office, that person is even more responsible to be able to inspire trust by being and remaining credible.

Finally, to anyone wanting to get into politics, Hon. Zammit Dimech recommends as follows; I would first and foremost recommend a period of formation. One cannot assume that one can do politics without going through a phase of adequate preparation for it.  Then one must be prepared to live a life where one is subject to constant scrutiny.  One enters public life precisely to be in the public domain and one cannot have any second thoughts about that.  If one is to get into politics seriously, one must be prepared to do many sacrifices, to be genuinely available to the people, to know that this is no other 9 to 5 job but this a 24 hour commitment, seven days a week.  One either enters the world of politics with a sense of mission, and feels passionate about it, or else one might just as well keep away from that world.  Finally I would share what I was told myself many years back as I set about to enter the world of politics. I was told not to expect any ‘thank yous’ for whatever I might do. It is more often than not an ungrateful arena – but one which if entered into with the right intentions does provide immense satisfaction since it is the most effective way of being able to make a difference in the lives of so many people.