Malta’s local council system is failing. A severe lack of finances and autonomy over their localities means they are having little to no effect beyond acting as a customer service point to deal with complaints that they simply do not have the power to solve.
That’s not to say that great projects haven’t been piloted throughout the islands, but with an election yielding a voter turnout of roughly 60%, it also seems that people have little faith in the current system.
With over 700 candidates challenging each other for a place in local governance this Wednesday and Friday, here are a few things that have to be done to radically change the current system.
1. Create regional councils
With 69 local councils in a country a quarter the size of London, it’s fair to say that the current state of affairs is administrative overkill.
Not only does the sheer number of councils and councillors (there 456 at the moment) create an unmanageable task for the central government to ensure things are done currently, it also fails to recognise the need for a holistic vision to have a significant effect.
Localities aren’t their own separate entities in a country where most towns and villages are touching ass-to-ass. Something that happens in St Julian’s or Gżira has a direct impact on Sliema. Something that happens in Paola has a direct effect on Tarxien and Fgura.
By creating regional councils, the country will be able to focus on resources, staff and talent into centralised points. The regional councils can be divided either according to six regions defined in statistical reports, or the voting districts used for general elections.
If five MPs are enough to represent an entire district on a national level, why shouldn’t the same reasoning be applied on a regional scale?
2. Introduce a council tax
Funding (or the lack thereof) is a significant issue facing local councils. As it stands, all our taxes go to the central government and funds are distributed accordingly, with some residents failing to see how their tax money is benefitting their community.
That’s not to say that current funds should be removed, but instead, they require an urgent boost. The government would be better served by introducing a new council tax (which can be as little as 0.1%) that goes directly into local or regional councils.
This will allow regional bodies to start enacting proper projects many communities desperately need, whether that’s public parks, proper waste management, hiring more community officer or finally tackling Malta’s rampant littering problem.
3. Give local or regional councils greater autonomy over their areas
The central government regularly ignores the concerns in localities despite their protests. Local council after local council has appealed decisions (mostly from the PA) that negatively affect their communities to no avail. Developers are also given free rein without little concern for a local plan or the effect their cash-making project will have to the surrounding residents.
As it stands, residents are often left frustrated by their local councillors, who are unable to address their complaints they do not have the powers to solve.
With increased funding, increased responsibilities should follow. Local or regional councillors understand their communities better than most, and they should be entrusted to carry out a plan that best benefits their residents.
4. Full-time regional councillors
While making full-time positions for over 450 councillors in Malta is impossible, increased funding and autonomy for a regional council presents a different scenario.
Working part-time in a position of authority while also working in a separate industry opens up potential conflicts of interests that will undoubtedly be exposed by individuals who seek to screw with the system.
The simple reality is that a full-time position will yield a full-time salary (which can be covered through the council tax) and ensure the best and most committed talent is occupying the post.
This logic shouldn’t be limited to the regional councillors. We first need to apply the same logic to our MPs, who are the lowest paid politicians in Europe.