One of the hallmarks of a country’s respect for democracy is its commitment towards strengthening civic participation in the decision-making processes. This includes measures about consultation with the public on proposed legislation, addressing major issues through public policies, ensuring freedom to participate in general and local elections, facilitating access to information and ensuring that decisions are taken close to those who would be directly affected by them.
The recent developments in local government in Malta are a significant proof of the commitment by central government to renew local governance in a way that would positively affect the lives of local citizens.
The reform proposals also include an acknowledgement of the need for a central authority that would not only monitor the operations of local government but also provide them with the necessary assistance and support. In this respect, the strengthening of the Local Government Division is aimed at providing better monitoring and support services to local authorities.
The reform is set to secure an improvement in the quality of life for everyone, including senior citizens and persons with special needs
By its very nature, public governance is dynamic. Technology, work processes and objectives change and develop all the time. It follows, therefore, that what was applicable yesterday is no longer applicable today. Public governance is regulated through legislation and policies. These provide the statutory framework for the implementation of initiatives for the common good of society.
The last local government reform in Malta was affected nearly a decade ago. The 2009 reform saw the introduction of measures and systems that at the time were deemed necessary. Since then, major technological, economic, environmental, political, social and legal changes have taken place that necessitate a revisit of local governance.
Last year marked the 25th anniversary since the inception of local government in our country. We felt that it offered 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 the reform is to strengthen both local and regional levels. One of the reform proposals is for local government to embark on the social field, where no citizen would be denied the opportunities or the services offered. In this regard, the reform is set to secure an improvement in the quality of life for all, including senior citizens and people 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 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 achievments and, above all, that it will continue making a real difference in the lives of residents.
Good governance is also an important aspect of public adminstration. At local governance level, we are committed to ensuring that regional and local councils operate with due respect to the rule of law, being accountable for their actions, with transparency, with inclusiveness and responding to legitimate demands in a prompt manner, seeking consensus and giving the opportunity to all to participate in local decision making.
Executive secretaries play a crucial role in the smooth running of the regional committee or local council. The executive secretary is responsible for being the guide and counsellor of the local council so that it operates in accordance with the law. Therefore, it is important that all the executive secretaries stay updated about local council legislation, the related regulations and directives, and any other proceedings that affect the operation of their local council.
I must also state that apart from the 42 proposals found in this White Paper, we also revised 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.
With regard to the various ongoing initiatives in favour of local councils during the year in which their 25th anniversary was also being celebrated, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Local Government and Communities within the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, in collaboration with the Parliament of Malta and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Anġlu Farrugia, for the first time held a meeting for the mayors in Parliament. The main topics discussed were the Local Government Reform White Paper, the decentralisation of power from the Central Government to Local Councils and the use of European Funds.
Just a few weeks ago, a Mass commemorating the 25th anniversary was concelebrated at St John’s Co-Cathedral. A reception at the Grand Master’s Palace in the presence of President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca was also organised.
During this ceremony, the relatives of late mayors and councilors were all presented with a commemorative plaque. A medal was given to all past ministers and parliamentary secretaries who were responsible for local government during the past 25 years, and to all former and present directors of the Local Government Division, former presidents of the Local Councils’ Association and to the present president, to all presidents of the Regional Committees and to all mayors, vice mayors, councilors and executives secretaries.
With regard to the 2019 Budget for local government, we have seen an increase of nearly €7 million. This is the highest increase ever given to local government.
The current Local Government Reform together with the 2019 Budget are a clear proof that the government believes in strengthening local government in our country.
Silvio Parnis Parliamentary Secretary of Local Government and Communities.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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