The Nationalist Party has warned it has become harder to attract local council candidates because the Labour Party has wrested so much power from councils over the past few years.
“The Labour Party was against the introduction of local councils in the 90s and still believes in a centralised form of government,” a PN spokesperson told Lovin Malta. “It has re-introduced a culture of centralisation, shifting powers from local councils to the central government. It is difficult to attract candidates to work as voluntary councillors if the local council’s power is limited to things like cleaning the streets and organising Jum il-Kunsill.”
The Nationalist Party has failed to produce enough candidates to win a majority in 21 of Malta’s 68 local councils, while the Labour Party has failed to produce enough candidates to win a majority in four of them.
The Nationalist Party is guaranteed to lose at least a third of the local council elections
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has warned the PN is playing a dirty game, sacrificing the right to fight for councils in which the PL enjoys a majority so as to disincentivize PL supporters from voting in the European Parliament elections.
“Perhaps a PL voter from Marsaskala might decide to go fishing instead of voting, safe in the knowledge that the PL will win the council regardless,” Muscat said.
However, a PN spokesperson insisted the party is just trying to maximise its human resources in a political landscape where working as a councillor isn’t as appealing as it once was.
This is because several powers that used to fall under local councils until a few years ago now fall under the central government. For example, the paving of secondary roads and wardens, which used to be the responsibility of local councils, is now the taken care of by the Local Enforcement System Agency (LESA).
Joseph Muscat inaugurating LESA’s Gwardamanġa offices a few years ago
“Wardens were set up in the first place to take some power away from the police, but now police officers are complaining that local councils have started calling them again instead of wardens,” the spokesman said. “While it’s true that wardens were sometimes used by local councils to generate cash, they would never give you a fine unless you did something wrong.”
Elsewhere, councils no longer have the power to issue permits for non-permanent structures, such as tables and chairs, and weren’t given a seat on the Planning Authority board, which was set up a few years ago to replace MEPA.
Neither can councils decide to install speed cameras and alter speed limits, such as when the Attard council had decided to reduce the speed of a camera from 60km/h to 50km/h.
“Local councils have lost power so it disincentives people from going out to vote,” he said. “It is clear that Labour’s ethos of centralisation hasn’t changed, and that 25 years after opposing the introduction of local councils, it is systematically removing responsibilities from their hands.”
Cover photo: The PL has used the PN’s shortage of local council candidates in one of its first billboard messages of this campaign