Useless formalities or fundamental aspects of every locality on the island? The issue of Malta’s local councils has been a point of friction and debate for many a year now, but as yet another local council election edges even closer, what do people think of the bodies specifically set up to improve their locality?
A week ago, we asked our readers to give us their opinions on the work done by Malta’s local councils ahead of upcoming elections in May. A tangible link between government and its citizens, we wanted to see whether people feel their problems are being addressed by their local councils ahead of the upcoming elections in May while also uncovering the everyday realities of people living in Malta and Gozo.
Here’s a collection of results compiled from that survey.
1. ‘All Local Councils do is paint parking lines’: Why aren’t people voting?
Maltese people seem to be obsessed with politics, whether that’s through genuine interest or parochial tribalism. In fact, voting turnouts in general elections have always been significantly high, regularly recording a 90%+ turnout.
The survey seems to reflect as such, with 69% of the respondents saying they would be voting in the upcoming election and 17% saying that they would not vote at all.
However, when examining the responses of those who do not plan to vote, a theme is clearly apparent.
Most of the people did express their dismay at their perceived “uselessness” of local councils, with particular reference being made on the lack of change or improvement they see within their localities.
“The local council does absolutely nothing for the locality and is just another means for budding politicians to fill their pockets doing bugger all. Malta would be much better with getting rid of this farce,” a Birkirkara man said
Meanwhile, a Valletta resident simply said that “all local councils do is paint parking lines”
2. Disenfranchised or politically-biased: How do people rate their local councils?
Examining the figures as a whole does paint a relatively puzzling picture, with people’s ratings of their local councils ranging from an outstanding 10 to an abysmal 1, even if they are within the same locality. In fact, save for a couple of in-between scores, no one rating dominated, with nearly the same amount of people going for the extreme 1 and 10 ratings on average.
This presents a number of theories, however two seem to be most likely. The first could be attributed to people’s political bias giving their local councils either higher or lower scores. It could also indicate that local councils, as much as they might try, are severely failing at reaching all their constituents, resulting in people feeling disenfranchised.
3. But where does your local council actually rank?
We should make it clear that we aren’t statisticians and are just looking to find out exactly how people feel about the work being done within their communities and uncover the everyday realities of people living in Malta and Gozo.
However, we thought we could use our figures to give a much better perspective on the best and worst performing local councils.
Using 10 responses as a minimum for the average, the results are as follows:
Balzan, Naxxar, Siġġiewi: 7
Attard, Fgura, Mellieħa, Sliema, Swieqi, Żurrieq: 6
Haż-Żebbug, Rabat, Zabbar: 5
Birkirkara, Birżebbuġa, Mosta, Msida, San Ġwann: 4
Gżira, Marsaskala, St Paul’s Bay: 3
4. “It’s a mess from top to bottom” – Overdevelopment and its effects on the environment, infrastructure and traffic key issues in localities
Malta has undergone a radical shift in the last 30 years, transforming from a mostly socialist economy reliant on tourism to a thriving, highly-developed nation off the back of significant investment into the financial services’ sectors.
However, all growth has its pains, and nowhere is this more apparent in Malta than with the influx of people and development creating ever-growing problems on the tiny island, be they social, environmental, or infrastructural.
This is reflected in the survey, with roughly half of the people flagging poor road infrastructure (196), traffic (184), development (170), and the environment (168).
“Its a mess from top to bottom: dirty, decaying and generally becoming uglier and cheaper looking,” one person described Rabat’s current state of affairs
Another described Swieqi as becoming a slum, with another lamenting that the infrastructure was yet to be upgraded despite the high increase in population in Sliema.
“In every other street you are apt to see a crane blocking your way, works polluting the area and robbing you of your deserved parking spaces not limited only to the construction vehicles and sites,” a man from San Ġwann said
Surprisingly, migration was the least selected option by respondents despite the issue frequently hitting the news, whether that’s through rising property prices or asylum seekers.
5. Parks, Trees and Parking: These are the ways people feel local councils are improving their lives
Local councils, it should be said, are sometimes able to accomplish a lot despite minimal resources.
In total, the 69 local councils are expected to share a €36.5 million fund, with only seven local councils receiving more than €1 million per annum (St Paul’s Bay, Birkirkara, Mosta, Sliema, Rabat, Qormi and Mellieħa). St. Julian’s, for example, gets just €800,000, despite the growing issues within the area.
To put things into perspective, properly fixing and paving one road roughly costs €1 million.
The survey itself does reflect the good work some councils do with regard to cultural activities and the creation of public spaces despite the lack of resources.
“Arranging the road and parking in front of St Luke’s, the restoration of the Chapel of Sorrows and road beautify the area – makes me proud to live here having the area looking good,” a woman from Pieta’ admitted
Meanwhile, another person praised the Sliema local council for planting over 60 trees in the area.
“Projects like these should be encouraged and taken up by all local councils,” he said
However, that being said, it appears that not everyone seems to be satisfied just yet, with some members within localities flagging how there had been “no projects in last six years” and others saying that projects remained unfinished or simply made the locality “become more shit”.
6. Increase funding, full-time mayors and an end to partisan politics: Things people want to change at local councils
Simply put, the survey yielded some very consistent responses when it came to what people would change in local councils.
Most people flagged the issues surrounding funding and responsibility, with some insisting that local councils need more power to do their job effectively. A full-time salary for a mayor, for example, was suggested as a positive step forward.
The issue of partisanship infiltrating local councils was also often expressed, with some suggesting that local council candidates should not even form part of a political party
“As in the case of St.Paul’s Bay, if the majority of the council forms part of the party in opposition to the government, then there will be no collaboration,” one person said.
“They either have nothing to do or else they have other aspirations in mind,” a man from Birżebbuġa explained
Some did suggest disbanding the system completely, saying they were simply ineffective on a small island and provided a smokescreen for the government’s inability to tackle local issues. It was suggested more than once that, rather than having 69 local councils, it would make much more sense financially and bureaucratically to have a small number of regional councils to have a greater focus on the issues.
7. “Their influence is useless at the moment” – 82% of responders think councils’ in-depth understanding of localities mean they deserve more responsibility
Whatever the age, locality, or gender, the overwhelming majority (82%) of responders felt that the local council should be given more power.
In their comments, most people said that the local councillors know the “real problems” facing the localities, with some suggesting that they should even be allowed to create their own revenue schemes whether that is a parking scheme or council tax.
“The entire point of local government is to decentralise decisions from the main government, being allowed more power to affect change in the community at a more effective and efficient rate would benefit not only the community but also the central authorities,” one person wrote
“The government as a whole won’t take notice of someone’s small problem within their community,” another said.
Who were the respondents?
358 people responded to the survey, 65% of whom were men and 34% of whom were women. The age range of the respondents was quite disparate, with 39% aged between 21 and 35, and 27.% aged between 36 and 50. Young voters between 16 and 20 made up 11% of the group.
To possibly account for some skewed political bias, most of the respondents said they would vote for the Nationalist Party (38.3%) in the upcoming elections, while 14% said they would vote the Labour Party, with 24.7% saying they did not know yet.