The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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‘Mismanagement, lack of vision, lack of direction’: Swieqi mayor slams government

Isaac Saliba Wednesday, 10 July 2024, 08:11 Last update: about 7 days ago

Local councils need more autonomy and power to be able to work on fixing issues directly without having to go to the government, Swieqi Mayor Noel Muscat said while speaking with The Malta Independent.

“I always ask what the government has done in ten years when it comes to strengthening local councils, and no one can ever give me an answer,” the Nationalist Party Mayor remarked, adding that the government has done the opposite and taken power away from local councils. He commented that the government has brought local councils to a point where they have to ask for everything.

“It’s all mismanagement and lack of vision, and lack of direction. There’s no doubt.”

He argued that local councils should be able to directly deal with certain issues themselves and be able to choose their own contractors for works.

“It’s terrible, you feel helpless in front of your residents. It’s the worst thing, not being able to help, and we know what the problem is, but they don’t have a solution,” he said, referring to the government.

Swieqi, like many other localities, is facing serious problems when it comes to garbage collection

 

He said that despite the removal of local council autonomy, “the government then gloats about their schemes.” he referred to a scheme the government enacted where local councils would have access to a pool of ten million euros as an infrastructural fund. “Divide that between 68 councils,” he remarked.

The Swieqi Mayor began speaking on the issue of waste in his locality and said that while it is true that recycling has increased, as it has become mandatory and households are cooperating, there are still major problems. He stressed that short-let apartments are a major factor when it comes to Swieqi’s difficulties with waste, and he recalled that he has been speaking about this since 2016, “when organic waste separation began as a pilot project”. He said that since 2016 he has told the government what the origin of the problem is, but remarked that it has continued to worsen with no one stepping in to solve it.

On the matter of short-let apartments, he referred to the issue as “another farce,” because commercial activity should not be permitted in priority residential areas, “but short-lets are of a commercial nature”. He questioned why permits are therefore given in priority residential areas. “Short-lets are for tourism … How are permits for short-lets being given in Madliena?”

Muscat said that the Swieqi locality faces many issues, including those relating to security and disturbances, particularly at night.

Emails are sent regularly about these matters, the Mayor divulged, as he said that every report he receives or infraction he sees personally is then forwarded to higher authorities, particularly to the Ministries for the Environment and Tourism. “It cannot be that these problems are not addressed and we keep gawking,” he remarked, as he explained that some localities in the region, including Swieqi, Sliema, and St Julians, established a working group about such problems to try to find a short-term solution.

Despite such initiatives, he said that the problem is coming from the top, “and the Malta Tourism Authority with the licenses they hand out”. He continued that it is not the majority, but that there is a minority which have “left a disaster in the locality”.

Regarding security and disturbance issues, the Swieqi Mayor said that he regularly writes to the Commissioner of Police, but he does not receive replies. “I’ve asked him to open up the police station during the night because our problems are at night … I’ve sent him three or four emails within two weeks and haven’t even received a response.”

On the point of permits and lack of autonomy, Muscat said that Transport Malta is another entity which hands out permits without discussing matters with the local council. He recalled a situation where trucks were given permission to pass through Ibrag for a db project around a couple of weeks ago, and how the local council’s objections were dismissed as the drivers had permission from Transport Malta.

“There are a lot of issues,” he said, “construction, overpopulation. In Swieqi, it’s not as such that the population has increased, which it has, but the biggest increase was in tourism and short-let apartments, and this is causing big problems, such as in terms of waste for example.” He continued that such problems are not just at a local level, but at a national level, “caused by the state itself because there is no direction”. He said that he is asking for the carrying capacity exercise and that he wrote to the Planning Authority after the election asking for it to conduct the exercise in Swieqi, but he did not receive any reply.

“There are too many issues, and it’s all coming from the sudden increase in population, whether domestic population, meaning long-term, or touristic, meaning short-term.”

Muscat remarked that he never receives any reply from the Ministries that he contacts and that the Environmental and Resources Authority uniquely shows an interest and responds to him, “but that’s all”.

He said that the local council feels helpless in front of frustrated residents. “Disturbances from construction, disturbances at night, traffic and accessibility issues, waste. People are not happy in their localities. This sense of lawlessness is all over.” He continued that there is too much indiscipline in the country and that there has to be drastic action to begin resolving things. “The crux of the problem is that they are making the wrong decisions,” he said, referring to the government, “it’s as simple as that.”

With all that said, the Mayor of Swieqi concluded by saying that people cannot give up, as that would be the worst thing to do. He added that people need to keep pressing on issues like this and bring attention to what is happening.

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