The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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TMID Editorial: The future of local councils

Tuesday, 28 November 2023, 10:51 Last update: about 4 months ago

There is a clear need to give local councils more power over issues in their locality.

More powers on the issue of waste collection is one example, a stronger say on major planning applications in their locality, is another.

When speaking about planning, the local council having a single vote on the Planning Board when there are major applications being discussed is not enough. They represent the people in the locality after all. Their say should be strengthened.

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Over the years, local council powers have also shrunk. In some instances, such as road works, it made sense for them to be handled by a central authority, as such works were not only a major financial burden on councils, but there would also be issues when one council transitioned to another after an election. In other cases, such as waste collection, the negative effects of the decision to move it out of local councils' hands are there for all to see.

The country should be having a discussion about what exactly we envision the role and powers of local councils to be and how they can be improved from what they are today. The principle of that discussion should be that the councils serve as a central point for services in the locality itself, where they can offer immediate assistance for certain issues. That should always be the starting point. The councils should also have the necessary autonomy and powers to help their citizens. Perhaps giving the councils some enforcement capabilities like they had in the past might also come in handy?

Local councils should also be included in discussions about government projects in their localities from the very beginning, and this should not be a token consultation, but the councils should have a real say. One hopes that this is already the case, and if not, then changes are needed.

The Mayor of St Paul's Bay, who is from the Labour Party had indicated that "nowadays, the local council's autonomy does not exist." The Swieqi mayor, from the Nationalist Party, meanwhile said that the government has reduced the local councils' autonomy to intentionally decrease their popularity in order to lead to further centralisation of power. These statements were told to this newsroom earlier this year.

Both mayors have highlighted the issue with the lack of autonomy in the councils.

The local council elections are just around the corner, taking place next year, and we should be having a greater discussion about how councils could be improved to better serve the residents of their locality.

Councils today still play a vital role in our lives, and people should pay close attention as to who they are voting for. A council with good candidates could make welcome changes in a locality, and fight for its residents when the need arises, whereas a locality with councillors who are not quite up to standard could miss certain fights that it should be taking up, or take bad decisions.

The resources available to local councils should also be improved, to ensure that they could all, for instance, employ architects to evaluate planning applications, or employ social impact assessments on projects or ideas the council or government have for their locality. At the same time councils must be organised and keep on top of things. We cannot have situations where councils fail to submit their audited accounts to the National Audit Office, as happened recently with a small number of councils.

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