The Malta Independent 24 October 2016, Monday

No infrastructural projects carried out in Valletta since 2013 due to lack of funds

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 24 January 2016, 10:30 Last update: about 10 months ago

There have been no infrastructural projects in Valletta since 2013 due to a lack of funds, Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici said in response to a Parliamentary question posed by Claudio Grech.

This answer, however, does not include projects initiated as part of the Valletta 2018 project, which saw, amongst others, the restoration of the Jesuit Church and the façade of the Palazzo Ferraria.

Valletta Mayor Alexiei Dingli told this newsroom that the funds allocated to the local council just do not match the amount actually needed.

The Department for Local Government (DLG) allocates €170,000 to the council for cleaning, yet the council spends around €458,000. “The formula they use is not realistic. Valletta hosts a large number of events for example, thus requiring a lot of cleaning afterwards. The fact that 40,000 people visit the city each and every day is not taken into consideration!”

Another issue deals with administration costs. While only two full-time staff are supposed to be working for the council, this is not possible. “The DLG says we can only spend €54,000 on human resources, yet we spend €172,000,” said Prof. Dingli. “We would not be able to run the capital city properly with two people. We currently have five full-time employees and one person who takes care of events. In the past, we also had an EU funds officer to tap into EU funding and we’re seeking approval from the government to carry on recruitment. These are basic things that require capital to run, and the existing formula used regarding funding works against us.”

The mayor highlighted yet another problem, saying that WasteServ services are supposed to be ring-fenced, with the government allocating the exact amount required by the council to pay WasteServ. Yet as things stand, he explained, €38,000 is allocated to the council, but WasteServ charge €42,000. “The council has already raised these inconsistencies with the DLG but we’re still waiting for a solution.”

He spoke of a number of projects he would like to undertake, should the council have the funds. One example, he said, would be upgrading the pavements and the remaining roads in and around Valletta, “especially considering that V18 is fast approaching.

“Valletta’s basic infrastructure needs upgrading”, he said, mentioning that a number of roads also require a new layer of tarmac.

The council has also been the centre of a controversy recently regarding its unpublished 2014 accounts, and Mayor Dingli contends that this is due to a conflict of interest regarding the Council’s auditors. In 2014, these were Grant Thornton, but in 2015 it switched to another firm because the contract with Grant Thornton had been terminated.

Mayor Dingli explained that the new accountants found some items had been omitted, but Grant Thornton had not provided the new accounts with the information requested. In addition, the DLG has subsequently appointed Grant Thornton as auditors for local councils, he said, stating that this was a clear conflict of interest. 

Prof. Dingli says that the council contacted the National Audit Office about the issue, and was told that the auditor could handle this dual role by effectively creating a Chinese wall.

He explained that the council sent the requested information for the audit to Grant Thornton back in July, way before the NAO deadline, but the council had not received anything back from the auditors, thus the audited accounts could not be sent to the NAO.

To date, the council is still awaiting receipt of the audited accounts from the auditors. 

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