The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Removing subsidies on fuel will immediately decrease traffic, ADPD chairperson says

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 6 November 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

ADPD chairperson Carmel Cacopardo has described the high price of fuel as a possible “godsend” solution to Malta’s traffic problem.

In an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Cacopardo argues that removing the subsidies on petrol and diesel will result in an immediate decrease in traffic on the island. But he also believes that there should be a push to improve Malta’s public transport system.

Cacopardo gave an example. “Consider what we've been going through this week. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were three days when schools were closed. On Thursday schools reopened and traffic jams were everywhere. This also means that the measures to provide school transport are ineffective. Most probably they have not been taken up sufficiently.”

“But the issue of the price of fuel is a godsend solution, which turns a problem into an opportunity and we should use it. We should also use it to improve our public transport.”

He said that some would argue that now that public transport is free, as of 1 October, there is no room for complaints… “but of course there is”.

“The introduction of free public transport was premature. Before making it free, one should have embarked on ensuring its efficiency and reliability. Only at that stage does it make sense to make it free,” he said, also highlighting the need for a campaign for a behavioural change when it comes to transport.

“The National Transport Master Plan identifies that 50% of trips made by private cars are for distances of less than 15 minutes in duration. This means that most of them are local or regional in nature. If one addresses just that, it means that particularly during rush hour one would remove 50% of traffic.”

Having more effective public transport, nudging less use of fuel through an increase in prices could see that result as an initial reaction, he said. “Distances in Malta are very short and that is an advantage which other countries don't have. We should tap that advantage.”

Pressed on the issue and told that removing the fuel subsidy would see those who can’t afford to pay being the hardest hit, he said that they would be the ones to take the maximum advantage from it. Having a car, he said, costs a lot of money each day. “We tend to forget the cost of the car itself, the cost of insurance, the cost of maintenance and of fuel.” He said that it costs a substantial number of euros every day.

 

Small parties

The last general election saw one of the lowest turnouts in Malta’s electoral history, 85.6%, but people didn’t really go out and vote for small parties. He was asked about this and what the ADPD needs to do to gain some steam.

“First, while it is correct to say that there has been a lower turnout than usual, it is still very high by modern democratic standards everywhere, so I wouldn't worry that much about it. I think we will have to get accustomed to even lower turnouts than that. It is normal in a democratic society and is a reflection that the situation is less tense politically than 20 or 30 years ago.”

“Obviously it is always worrying that voters tend to abstain, as we are accustomed to nobody at all abstaining.” Turning to the ADPD, he said that they have doubled their voter strength. “It is still small, but we are close to our record vote at 1.61%. We need to do better, but we are handicapped by a lack of access to the media – we don't have our own TV station, newspaper or radio station, and that makes a lot of a difference.”

As for past ADPD arguments that certain electoral laws or policies are unbalanced in favour of the two main political parties, he mentioned that the ADPD instituted a constitutional case contesting certain electoral legislation. “We are contesting the adjustment mechanisms in respect of proportionality and the gender balance mechanism. We are not against having a proportionality balance correcting mechanism or a gender balance correcting mechanism, but they need to be applied across the board, subject to reasonable thresholds. At the moment, they only apply when there are two parties in Parliament and that is incorrect.”

 

Stepping down

After the last general election, Cacopardo indicated that he would be stepping down from his party leadership post and has now said that this will happen shortly, “most probably during the Annual General meeting”. Asked whether there is someone ready to take up the post, he said there are a number of persons who could be interested. He also confirmed his intention to remain active in the party.

Turning to the coming elections in 2024, ADPD plans to contest both the EU Parliament elections and also a number of local council elections, he said. “Shortly we will decide on the first two or three candidates for the European Parliament and eventually we will also take the decisions relative to a number of local councils.”

Asked whether there is any particular issue the party intends to run on, he said that it is too early to say, “but the normal issues apply. The issues of good governance primarily, even in respect of local councils. It is also an issue at European level and so we generally tend to go back to the issues which have been raised very recently, and most of them are still applicable”.

Told that some would argue that this government is better than the previous government in terms of how it's handling good governance, he said both were on a downward trend. The basic indicators, he said, are how they deal with institutions which monitor government operations “and government has a very bad record in this respect”. He mentioned no new Ombudsman being appointed after the term of office expired and the fact that the government and Opposition did not come to an agreement for his replacement is demotivating the staff. “We also have the same issue now with the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.”

“What's been going on in the rumour mill is that government wants to have a Standards Commissioner appointed from the Labour area of influence, and if that is conceded, they would concede someone from the PN’s area influence (for the Ombudsman’s post). I think that is a bad way of filling posts.” 

The Nationalist Party, with regards to local councils, has made the argument that the Labour Party has forgotten about or taken away too much power from the local councils. Asked for his opinion, he said that such a position is “correct, because central government is interfering too much in the exercise of local politics and that should be left to the local councils. Obviously, government has a regulatory function, but instead of making use of a regulatory function, government is taking day to day involvement. Sometimes we tend to say that local councils are being developed as the front desk, customer care office of government”.

Cacopardo said that the original powers councils had were fairly reasonable. “It is not an issue of adding powers, it's about allowing the councils to function with the powers and responsibilities which they have been given.”

 

Over-development 

The ADPD leader was also asked about overdevelopment, an issue the party has spoken about for years. He doesn’t believe the main issue is planning legislation. “The issue is the persons selected to implement it... that is the basic issue. Planning legislation is generally fine. As it should be, there is an element of discretion. It is the persons who are applying that discretion, which in a number of cases, have no idea as to what they're doing. The issue always boils down to who is selected to run the shop.”

In terms of what he would change, he said that there is no room for political party representatives on the planning board. “Secondly, we feel that all the members of the Board should be subject to public scrutiny. It is not just the chairman who should be scrutinised in Parliament, but all the members. Some will tend to say that government has a large majority and it would rubber stamp all nominees. But we've seen the last nominee for chairman who had to step down after some issues cropped up which could not be defended. So irrespective of the majority which government has, subjecting all nominees for the planning board and the planning commissions to public scrutiny would tend to weed out undesirables and would lessen the problem.”

In terms of planning enforcement against illegalities, he said that the resources for such work are never enough.

“The basic problem with enforcement is that generally they tend to act on complaints and not go out to seek the infringements themselves. That is the basic difficulty and the basic problem of the enforcement section... They tend to be reactive, not proactive.”

“A suitable enforcement section could only be run if one is proactive, going out to seek infringements. That would include acting on complaints, but the basic thrust should be proactive, forward-looking.”

As for the uglification of Malta, and how he would tackle it, he said that at the end of the day, it’s about having suitably qualified people to vet what's being proposed and having slightly less restrictions. “Having more flexibility in design, but at the same time having an active regulatory body which analyses well what is being submitted.”

 

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