This government believes in strengthening local government. The current Local Government Reform as well as the Budget for 2019 are proof of this. On October 19, we launched the Local Government Reform White Paper for public consultation. We felt that the 25th anniversary of local government offers the appropriate opportunity to undertake an in-depth assessment of the sector and to embark on a reform built on decentralisation and greater autonomy for our local government.

The process leading to this reform involved an objective assessment of the local government set-up, which enabled us to determine which aspects of the system were functioning properly and which failed to meet expectations. Proposals were subsequently drawn up with a view to addressing the shortcomings identified.

The aim of this reform is to strengthen both local and regional councils. One of the reform proposals is for local government to embark in the social field, where no citizen would be denied the opportunities or the services offered. In this regard, the reform is to secure an improvement in the quality of life for everyone, including senior citizens and persons with special needs.

There is also a need to deliver more, in terms of both quality and quantity, in relation to cultural events, sport and education, thereby ensuring that no one is excluded.

I believe that this is the right time for us to register significant progress in terms of the quality of services rendered. This will ensure that local government will continue building on past achievements and, above all, that it will continue making a real difference in the lives of residents.

I must also state that apart from the 42 proposals found in this White Paper, we also revised the local council law and to date we are proposing about 80 amendments. Obviously, in order for this process to be concluded one has to assess the outcome of the public consultation, following which the draft amended Bill is forwarded for Parliament’s consideration.

There is a need to deliver more, in terms of both quality and quantity, in relation to cultural events, sport and education

The 2019 Budget for local government has seen an increase of €6.933 million. This is the highest increase ever given to local government. One must also note that during the last local government reform, which took place in 2009, the total increase awarded to local government was that of €5.6 million.

The present increase of almost €7 million to local government shows the central government’s will to revitalise our regional and local councils. It is important to note that when one incorporates the direct funding, funds for schemes and special programmes as well as funds for the restructuring of the Local Government Division, the total amount allocated to local government is of €53 million.

Another interesting fact is that between 2008 and 2012 the amount given to local government was €140,999,000 and between 2012 and 2017 the global amount of funds allocated to local government was €162 million, a difference of €21 million.

With regards to our regional councils, according to the 2017 audited accounts, their total expenditure was that of €2.2 million. The Budget allocated for the first time a fund of €3.15 million to our regional councils. Apart from this fund one must also say that all costs related to local tribunals, which are a substantial part of the regional councils’ present expenditure, will be now covered by the LESA Agency.

It’s also important to note that apart from the €2 million increase in direct allocation, local government will also be awarded a €55,000 increase for publications and information, a €373,000 increase for the restructuring of the Local Government Division, a €100,000 increase for schemes, a €100,000 increase for an employment scheme including in the community, a new sum of €200,000 for the sustainability of capital projects made by the central government in our localities, a new sum of €1 million for the implementation of separation bins in public spaces within our localities and another increase of €200,000 for a road surfacing programme.

I must also mention the €700 million investment project by the central government to resurface all roads of Malta and Gozo in a span of just seven years.

This investment will leave more funds in the local councils’ pockets. Another crucial fund is the Local Councils Animal Fund. A fund of €120,000 which will serve as a benefit for both the local councils and our localities.

On a concluding note I must also appeal to local councils to make use of the €28 million planning fund which at the moment is at their disposal.

This wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t worked together as a team. I wish to conclude by thanking all those involved in these achievements and I look forward to future successes.

Silvio Parnis is Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government and Communities.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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