The Malta Independent 10 December 2022, Saturday
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Local Councils could be so much more

Sunday, 20 November 2022, 06:35 Last update: about 20 days ago

Alexander Mangion

Starting as an experiment, receiving mixed reactions at first, slowly but surely they became an intrinsic part of Maltese life. Local Councils will be celebrating their 30th anniversary next year and surely government will go out of its way to throw a shindig worthy of the milestone. Yet, our cities and towns would be better served with one fewer party, and a greater commitment towards what Local Councils were truly established for – to reduce dependence on central government and make a difference in the lives of people in the communities.

In an ideal world, Local Councils ought to be the backbone of every locality, paying attention to the different realities. Our localities vary in terms of demographics, from aging populations to ones described as up-and-coming. Local Council are closest to these different realities as they are exposed to the needs of their people, daily. Sadly, this wealth of knowledge can often be lost to the restrictions and limitations these local institutions face.

Unfortunately, Local Councils lack the right tools to carry out the most basic of actions, having to resort to government. Most often, Local Councils are reduced to glorified customer care centres, relaying the message to government entities and authorities for the simplest matters.

What was meant to be the ultimate exercise in decentralisation has been reversed as government has unprecedentedly, over the past years, increasingly reigned in power.

Every locality has its own challenges, which are only expounded further through national realities such as population growth, which has grown uncharacteristically in the past 10 years.

For example, locality cleanliness remains a serious challenge which eats up a substantial part of the Local Council budgets each year. This is not only true to streets and squares though, in the light of looming mandatory waste-separation. Immediately, many questions start to arise, as to how the country will prepare for this new paradigm. Has the increase in population size been taken into consideration or are we expecting old solutions to address new challenges? Is it time for our developments to have a dedicated area within the infrastructure of a condominium to house separate waste, as happens abroad? Not rocket science really.

In order for such a project, which naturally I am in favour of, to be a success, a great deal of education and cooperation from residents is crucial. Local Councils could be the perfect ally in this campaign.

Sadly, over the past years we have seen a relapse of sorts, with residents finding it difficult to take out the right colour bag on the right day or even giving up on separating waste altogether, throwing everything in the black bag. This obviously leads to unsightly pavements which are made all the more unpleasant during the summer months.

So firstly, we need to acknowledge this starting point before we start talking of mandatory ways. Local Councils can play a very important role here.

With the festive season on the way, I cannot but reflect on the issue of locality security. It is a known fact that certain localities experience a spike in burglaries at this time of year, as residents are likely to be manifestly away from home.

Is anything being done to beef up locality security? While neighbourhood watches are certainly a step in the right direction, more can be done.

Government should work hand in hand with community policing and LESA, to monitor footage from CCTV cameras. Currently, the locality’s mayor is responsible for anything that goes on in a locality – a burden that should be shared.

Local Councils shouldn’t remain a convenient scapegoat for government entities, to direct residents’ complaints about anything and everything. Or at least, Local Councils should be given the right tools and resources to be better equipped to cater for such eventualities.

I strongly believe that it is high time for Local Councils to grow beyond their current operation, and really be there to make a difference in the lives of their residents. After all, they are the first port of call and that is precisely what they were created to do, 30 years ago.

 

Alexander Mangion is deputy mayor in Attard

 

 

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