Greening our communities

Alternattiva Demo­kratika will be fielding 10 candidates for next week’s local council elections. While many valid candidates are contesting these elections, the debate has focused on councillors who have created a mess. Topping the list are Sliema and Mosta who have let their electors down.

In Sliema, infighting, administrative irregularities and allegations of corruption (now under investigation) are surely not what electors voted for when they chose the candidates presented in 2009 by the Nationalist Party. The operation of the Sliema council over the past three years proves that in selecting its candidates the PN does not always consider competence as a primary criterion. The dissolution of the Sliema council was an appropriate step. It could, however, have been taken much earlier.

On March 10, electors will be called to clean up the mess created by Labour at Mosta where infighting has led to an ineffective council. I hasten to add that, notwithstanding the above, this council had quite a headache to bring its finances in order, an inheritance bequeathed by a 13-year PN council administration. Administrative incompetence at Mosta dates back to the first council that overspent its financial allocation, passing on the unsettled bills to subsequent councils. The unsettled bills surpassed the €1million mark!

The PN-led government has played a game of political chess at Mosta, tolerating infighting that led the council to miss meetings for five consecutive months. This should have led to its dissolution ages ago, thereby permitting the community to immediately replace those who could not deliver. By not dissolving the council, the government placed its political advantage before the interests of the Mosta community.

Last week, in an article in The Malta Independent, entitled The Way Ahead For Local Councils, Nationalist MP Robert Arrigo identified another serious issue. He spoke of instances where sitting MPs invest in the election of local councillors hoping that, upon election, they would have their protégés in place. It is very positive that Mr Arrigo emphasises that he will keep himself at arm’s length from direct involvement in the local elections in his constituencies.

Maybe it is also time to consider whether those employed in the private secretariats of holders of political office should be precluded from contesting local council elections.

AD has already had the opportunity to criticise Directive 5 issued by the Principal Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister dealing with the participation of public officers in politics. While the most pressing issue, the right of public officers below salary scale five to contest local council elections without being required to take forced unpaid leave was resolved, there are additional matters that need to be tackled. Directive 5 needs extensive revision.

AD’s local council electoral programme places community identity and basic community services as the focal point of its mission statement. Local councils exist to serve and protect local communities, yet, various local councils have remained silent when faced with rampant over-development, which has devoured precious spaces in our towns and villages. The Mosta local council, for example, was conspicuously absent in the Wied il-Għasel debate. Residents have only been supported by AD and environmental NGOs.

Similarly, in Sliema, the local council has lost its voice on issues of over-development. It’s been ages since it spoke up on behalf of Sliema residents who feel trampled upon by so-called “developers” who have taken over Sliema, which is nowadays a permanent construction site!

Another case focused on by AD is the impact on residents of a quarry at Wied Inċita, Attard, which is too close for comfort to the residential area. Illegal developments have taken place in the quarry and, notwithstanding that it has been reformed (!), alerted and reminded of the issue many a time, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has let the quarry operators free to do as they please. Minister Jason Azzopardi is probably unaware that part of the quarry is government owned! AD has also drawn attention to the development that Mepa recently approved on Manoel Island. Building about 500 apartments together with other structures on Manoel Island is not a good omen!

Over-development has led to the current glut, quantified at 53,000 vacant residential units in 2005 and now estimated to surpass the 70,000 mark. This glut strains the local councils’ budget for the upkeep of localities as, in fact, it means that services are unnecessarily stretched to service ghost towns! Vacant residential property in Malta adds up to nine times the size of Birkirkara!

The election of green local councillors on March 10 will ensure that environmental issues will be at the top of the local councils’ agenda. For it is through tackling environmental issues at a local level that the quality of life of our communities takes a leap forward. Experience has shown time and again that this only happens when green local councillors are elected.

Green is the colour of real change