The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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Gozo: Local councils - pawns in government strategies!

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 11 February 2024, 08:38 Last update: about 24 days ago

How did this Gozo end up in this disastrous state? Not recognisable from the Gozo of years ago. The rampant senseless construction moving on like a brakeless juggernaut at breakneck speed. 

In what localities is this taking place? Obviously, developers are sharks and are ready to exploit a weak situation when they sense one. Look at Xlendi, and Marsalforn resorts. Then spare another glance at the skyline on the fringes of villages. These are now defaced by cranes, temporarily making way for apartments, blocking the sunrise and hurrying the sunsets not to be cherished except for the few who can afford to have their apartment on the cliff edge. 

The greedy developers did not stop there. They managed to exploit the serene countryside by constructing their so-called farmhouses and villas. Their hunger is limitless. They come up with various justifications for encroaching on the designated untouchable ODZ areas. 

No more! Enter the planning authority appointed or even anointed by this vote obsessed government. In this country, the voters can do whatever they may think of. Keep the voter happy and we will always remain in government, is the credo of this present government.

This reckless development started in Malta some five years ago, later it started gradually to spillover to Gozo. Like drug pushers, first they ruin those around them, then they target other vulnerable young victims. 

So Gozo now is in the swirling vortex of this irresponsible development and destructive craze. The developers are nothing more than disorderly creatures. They are always hungry, so at the first sight of food, they run wild and are uncontrollable.

They satisfy their lust with the shameless permits issued to them by the Planning Authority (PA). Take the Ggantija ODZ PA permit for a block of 22 apartments and 20 parking spaces located less than 180 metres away from the Ggantija Temples World Heritage Site. PA officials invent all kinds of excuses. The Government protects them and the developers ensure they are always taking care of them some way or another.

And we stand still, passive as if amid the eye of the hurricane while those on the peripherals are being snatched, uprooted and swirled away without ever someone caring to raise a finger to save those who are in danger.

Where were the respective local councils when Marsalforn and Xlendi summer resorts were being transformed gradually but consistently to concrete boxes that ravaged the environment and beauty of these bays, which our ancestors went through such sacrifices to protect? Why did these councils not stand up and pronounce their disagreement with how permits were being issued by the PA? The Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA) woke up suggesting building on Gozo identity as 'an island of villages' when most of the destruction is already done and irreversible. 

The community elects local councils to be responsible for their locality and enhance it. The government and PA promptly suppress and ignore isolated protest cases.

But the case of Hondoq Ir- Rummien is diametrically opposite. Here the local council of Qala, especially the mayor Paul Buttigieg, argued and lobbied against the Hondoq Project. After a court decision and appeal that rejected the project, the Prime Minister and Minister for Gozo jumped onto the victorious bandwagon! 

Well, maybe the underlying reason is that almost the entire village of Qala opposed this project, and Qala is a stronghold of the minister for Gozo. 

The Victoria local council performance leaves much to be desired. They lack the will and power to bring about a pedestrian crossing or time controlled parking system in Victoria.

Councils are nothing more than a static subsidiary of the major government. They cannot go against the flow. They are there to extend and try to sustain support for their party. Can Gozo be better? Yes, it can. This will hang on how the governing party reacts to the voters' pleas. 

These pleas depend merely on personal needs. Nepotism is still rife. The micro approach renders votes. The macro situation is not effective, which reflects the general indifference state of the voters.

Three years ago in 2021, San Lawrenz mayor Noel Formosa commented "In my long tenure as mayor of the small village of San Lawrenz, I have made frequent and earnest appeals to the relevant authorities and to the public to raise awareness regarding the ever-deteriorating situation arising from the construction of huge buildings that are ruining Gozo."

Maybe the San Lawrenz mayor should seriously consider why they are still permitting vehicles to park near the inland sea beach on the pebble surroundings, leaving black tire marks behind. Why is there still no public convenience? Tourists have no other choice. They have to use the facilities at the nearby restaurant. 

On Aug 2023 on The Malta Independent on Sunday, Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat asserted, "The government has reduced the local councils' autonomy to intentionally decrease their popularity in order to lead to further centralisation of power.' And he's right! The Swieqi mayor inquired further about the lack of central government's efforts to empower local councils and enhance their governing capabilities over the past decade. Once again, he's correct!

Potholes and unexpected roadblocks with concrete mixers and cranes are common on Swieqi's roads today. It is up to the contractors to decide where to park, drive, and walk.

The Gozo Regional Council, on Jan 2024, drew attention "to the fact that Gozitan Local Councils have once again been excluded from a funding scheme for the restoration of historical sites and monuments."

When 16-year-old mayors start leading these councils, anticipate improvements. That will be the perfect recipe to not only hijack the local council but, even worse, brainwash these young mayors.

Malta has become the first EU country to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to become mayors and deputy mayors after parliament unanimously approved a new bill on 18, Dec 2023.

The next generation may excuse us for behaving this way. Hope they won't behave worse.


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