Since the introduction of the Local Government concept back in 1993 where the everyday management of our towns and villages was devolved to the residents themselves, with the councillors elected by the same residents, our localities have made huge improvements, infrastructural and cultural. They have given residents more sense of belonging and councillors can better understand their needs and priorities more than the central government ever can.
What started out as an experiment is now a part of our everyday life. Throughout the years, councils have been given more autonomy and the smooth running of the daily chores our towns and villages depends much on the efficiency of the local council and their staff.
The success of Local Government obviously varies from one locality to another, the commitment that councillors show, varies as well, whilst there is a good number of them that show dedication, others are there just for the number and the privilege and the perks, whatever those might be, of being a councillor. The needs of the localities vary from one village to another and this because of various reasons, first and foremost the area it covers but not only that. At first glance for example, one might find no or little difference between the villages of Mqabba and Gudja, but an issue that made the newspapers this week highlighted a very acute problem that the latter is facing. When one thinks of parking problems it is Sliema and Valletta that spring to mind, certainly not Gudja, but the residents of this village have been plagued with this problem due to the great number of holiday makers that take advantage of the proximity of this village to the airport and park their cars there without paying a cent thus avoiding the huge bill that parking in the MIA car park would incur. Issues like this are delicate and one must tackle them without a political blind fold.
In this sense I believe that Ivan Bartolo was right when in Parliament this week, he hinted at the possibility of doing without political parties for local elections.
We all know of vary valid people in our localities, persons that would surely give sterling service to their locality given the opportunity to contest individually and not on any party ticket. We have seen candidates who contested as independents over the years, only to fail miserably or to be stuck between a rock and a hard place for the whole legislation, unable to make a difference because the remaining members of the council are committed to their allegiance to their political party.
One exception is Floriana, a locality that has had an independent Mayor for the best part of the twenty five years that local councils have been in place, the result, whilst not overwhelming is more than satisfactory considering that the four other seats were divided between Nationalists and Labourites. This model could easily become the norm if councillors were to be freed from the party whip and be able to vote according to their conscience and not according to the view of their party. This is why councils were created in the first place and it would be a step forward if we had to find common ground on this matter as the prime beneficiaries would be our localities.
In the past, political parties have used Local Council election results to gauge their success or lack of it. Results have been pointers on which localities needed more attention and where parties were to focus for the general elections. This is no longer relevant now considering the fact that most of these elections take place on the day of the general elections or on the day of the European Parliament elections.
If we really want to give power to the people we should seriously consider taking this bold step. We would ensure that there would be genuine people who contest to represent their locality, we would ensure that we will not have any bench warmers any longer and we would also open the door to those who want to contribute for the greater good without being labelled Nationalist or Labourite.
We have to grow, we have to show more maturity in our way of thinking, we must not be afraid of taking steps in the right direction, even if these steps might not be reaping us the advantages that the present system gives us.
We must bear one thing in mind, local councils were introduced to better the lives of our citizens, not as a survey, so in this sense we must ensure that they are as effective as they can. We are bound to ensure that they perform at their best without any hindrance.
I have no doubt that this would even attract more voters to the polls, and will involve more residents, both directly and indirectly to do their part for the good of their locality. We want councillors for the whole locality not for the red, blue or green side of our village only.