Local councils were set up 25 years ago. One of the principal roles of councils is that they are required to act as a representative, informed and as responsible decision makers in the interest of its community. They are the local government and should thus be treated accordingly by all.
The Maltese have a parochial mentality so 68 councils were formed out of which five regions were created. Hence, every town or village knew that a fraction of the government’s money would go to each council according to a specific formula which leaves much to be desired, especially where small councils are concerned. The central region recently published a book, A taste of history with the input of the 13 councils of this region.
Personally, I contested the second legislature, thus have been mayor or deputy for 22 years. I can sincerely say that under my tenure, our council ran smoothly. We never have to take a vote on any decision as there was always consensus since it was for the benefit of the residents. Our staff gave their utmost to give service with a smile, which is much appreciated by residents. One bad moment was finding a debt of €59,000 when I took over from the previous mayor when he left before end of term.
This was repaid within 18 months, which was no small feat. It meant that our council could basically only make sure that all contracts and salaries were paid leaving very little or nothing to save towards any kind of project. This is why we actually are revamping the recreation centre and Tal-Mirakli at this late hour because we managed to save enough to do so. Some funds take long to come by and others have strings attached.
Certain EU-funded projects are usually not fully funded and require the local council to have 10 to 18 per cent of the amount funded in the bank prior to applying. When mayors were given the opportunity to meet the Minister of Local Councils and the Speaker in a special session in Parliament this was pointed out.
It is senseless that councils that already have money, will get funds and those who do not, will not obtain them. A government fund that makes up the difference is not always possible. Another case where EU funds were not given to Lija was when we applied to surface the alleys, we had Planning Authority permission but we were told that we did not qualify as we did not have enough tourists visiting.
First of all, I believe the residents should come first and if we count the festa week together with the niche market tourism, we would have over 15,000 tourists, so why not be considered for such funds?
Talking about funds, the council got around €50,000 from UIF funds to lay Narrow Street with printed concrete and recently through the Development Planning funds we already have €28,000 and shall get around €10,000 more to cover a tender for printed concrete in Alley 2, Preziosi Street. The council will have to fork out around another €5,000 for water services.
Local councils need more power, more autonomy and more money, otherwise they will not be able to operate as a true local government
We have applied for the rebuilding of rubble walls of farmers who answered our call and which are in the process of being taken care of.
Through our insistence and thanks to the Malta Tourist Authority, the Belvedere will be restored to the tune of €140,000. Preliminary work is already in progress. A landmark which should be safeguarded for future generations.
Thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Councils who encouraged me when I proposed an environmental- friendly project to obtain Norwegian funds, we have been informed by the director of local councils that we can announce this project, though it will not start before June.
The council had agreed to my proposal of having a small greenhouse on government land where school children may visit and learn the agricultural system of hydroponics, which is growing herbs and vegetables in water, a method for the future.
A lecture hall and a car park will be built in the same area. The hall may also be used as a community hall and the car park by residents. The project will be open to all ages and once a year they can show off their produce in a ‘green festival’. It is used in other countries as well as on a big scale by a Żejtun farmer entrepreneur.
It is horrendous that the one way system in Lija did not materialise. It is even worse for our residents who live in the bottleneck areas where traffic jams take place on a daily basis. Transport Malta are to be collecting more information for an in-depth study. We need to stop traffic coming through from as far as Mġarr and Gozo into Lija to use it as a short cut.
In reality we need new roads to cut across, totally bypassing Lija. Notwithstanding this, TM will embark on a programme ‘Share the Road’, through which we shall benefit. Cameras will be set up to make sure that the road will be first for pedestrians, then cyclists and lastly for slow moving cars.
Local councils need more power, more autonomy and more money otherwise they will not be able to operate as a true local government. Wardens as well as roads are not a local councils duty to see to. What else will be taken?
Magda Magri Naudi is mayor of Lija and Nationalist Party candidate at the local council elections.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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