The Malta Independent 19 September 2019, Thursday

Councillors have ‘right and duty’ to declare stance on spring hunting, Local Governance Board rules

John Cordina Monday, 26 January 2015, 12:32 Last update: about 6 years ago

Local councillors not only have a right but even a duty to inform their constituents of their opinions on political matters, including on the referendum for the abolition of spring hunting, the Local Governance Board has ruled today.

Last Saturday, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) had lodged a controversial protest after Attard vice-mayor Marco Spiteri and local councillor Ralph Cassar publicly declared that they will be voting against spring hunting, using the Facebook page of the Attard local council to do so.

The issue was discussed during a routine meeting held by the Local Governance Board - whose functions include investigating any complaints against local councillors as well as any alleged abuse, bad decision, maladministration or breach of the relevant code of ethics - this morning.

Speaking to The Malta Independent after the meeting, board chairman Joe Mifsud confirmed that the board easily ruled in the local councillors' favour.

The board was already intending to take a stand on the issue before such individual cases popped up, and its position is that since local councillors are representatives of the public, the public has a right to know what their views are.

"If anything, they would be expected to declare their position... we can find nothing to censure in local councillors' decision to express themselves," Dr Mifsud maintained. He said that while local councillors had to assume responsibility for the opinions they expressed, they had every right to use any channel to express them.

The board had taken a similar position last year, when a waste collection company complained after Lija councillor Marc Sant - the president of the Local Councils' Association - presented a motion in which he deemed the service the company provided to the council to be inadequate, and publicised this motion through Facebook.

So in this case, its conclusion is clear: local councillors are as free as the rest of the country to declare their position on spring hunting - whether in favour or against - dismissing the FKNK's claims that they are acting unethically or illegally by doing so on the local council's official Facebook page.

If anything, according to the board's decision, they might even be remiss if they choose to keep it a secret.

The Local Governance Board's decision earned it praise from Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola, which applauded it "for having taken the only plausible decision that can be taken in a democratic system."

"The pathetic attempt by the FKNK officials to try and silence Attard councillor Ralph Cassar (AD), and vice-mayor Marco Spiteri (PN) and by extension the voices of those who do not agree with them confirms their anti-democratic credentials and indeed gives an extra motivation to vote LE to all those who believe in freedom of speech. 'Je suis Charlie' not only in Paris, but even in Malta," Prof. Cassola said.

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