Today marks the first day of February. For many it is just another cold month, but for the vast majority of the residents of Valletta and for many others from all the corners of our island it is much more than that. February is the month during which, the feast of St.Paul is celebrated, with devotion and pomp, and a lot of beer and whisky at that. The Pawlini will be in the spotlight, La Valette’s band will be at its best, filling the chilly air with euphoric band marches guaranteed to make your hairs stand. Valletta will don its best dress to greet her patron saint as he is paraded through its streets with pride.
The streets of Valletta – the same streets engineered and planned for a city that never ceases to amaze those who visit. A timeless architectural gem, a complex and magical place. Like all such cities it needs to be managed and managed well. Easier said than done, and the neglect that engulfed Valletta in the seventies, eighties and early nineties is living proof of this. Managing Valletta had gone out of hand during those dark decades for the city, it had spiralled out of control and administrators, frustrated with no real say to change things, just let it be. The VRP and VRC were set up in the late eighties in a bid to change things but bureaucracy culled any good intentions there might have been. True, their effort was the best thing for a long time but definitely not good enough for the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen.
1993 – Nationalist Government introduces Local councils. The introduction of Local Councils triggered a serious upheaval in the way politics was done. By devolving power, residents were given the right to choose their representatives on matters that were close to home and that involved their particular town or village. The help and intervention of a minister or a Member of Parliament would not have to be solicited anymore in order to have a street light fixed or a pavement maintained. Local government would be a hands on system, with more powers devolved to it as years passed.
We all know that besides being our Capital City, Valletta is also a city that is lived in, very much alive not only with those who visit and work in it daily but with thousands that call Valletta home. The regeneration of Valletta has come at a cost to those who reside in it. Parking is a nightmare, ongoing restoration another. Hence the importance of electing a Mayor that was sensitive to the changes that needed to be but at the same time in touch with the daily reality, with the lives of those who lived here, with the problems that an ageing population faced.
Since the inception of Local Government, Valletta has had four Mayors. Hector Bruno being the first, taking the first steps into the unknown, amid the general sceptics including members of Parliament and Ministers who did not believe (or did not want) that devolution could really work and at a time when even the Local Councils Department had its own teething problems albeit under the capable directorship of Maurice Caruana, the role was not an easy one. Mr. Bruno paved the way, opened the doors to new ventures, met other Mayors from other Capital Cities, and made inroads, put Valletta on the European culture map once again. He was also the catalyst to hold a referendum concerning the Opera house, he had a very high bench mark but he managed, in his own unique way, to achieve much more than what was expected.
Then came Paul Borg Olivier. Paul is a nice guy to have a drink with or talk about the weather but unfortunately the buck stops there where legacies are concerned. Vociferous as he might have been, he failed to keep up the good work done by Hector Bruno, this might be because he had sights on a higher seat and used the time as Mayor to try and achieve that (to no avail I must add).
At first glance, Alexiei Dingli does not fill the politician prototype criteria, but his tenure as Mayor was one that left indelible and important marks in Valletta. Although not a man’s man, Dr. Dingli had a plan and he managed to achieve what he had planned for. Notably, he was the one that put in the successful bid for Valletta to become the Cultural Capital City of Europe in 2018. Unfortunately political bickering limited his input last year to a minimum, he would have certainly been an asset to what already was a hugely successful year, but this is Malta and such shenanigans come with our culture and there is not much we can do about it. Valletta was truly transformed during his tenure at the helm. His soft spoken attitude might betray you at times but he was as determined and persuasive as they come. Valletta will surely miss his politics.
With the wind blowing strongly for Labour and with three landslide victories under their belt, Valletta Labourites have strongly set their eyes on the Mayor’s seat in the capital. This would be a first as PN managed to hold the majority in the capital even when Labour was winning traditional PN strongholds such as St. Paul’s Bay and Mellieha. I was of the same opinion but now I might beg to differ.
With the resignation of Dr.Dingli, Christian Micallef is now the new Valletta mayor. The popular football pundit, presenter of the most popular sport show on the island – Replay is as good as they come. I have had the pleasure of working with him for almost ten years and I can say outright that he is a doer and an achiever. His no nonsense attitude during his tv show has earned him the respect of many and it is the likes of him that the PN should focus on if it wants to attract new voters.
Christian is a great team player, and under his direction, Valletta could take giant strides. Being born and bred in St. Paul’s street in one of Valletta’s most influential families makes him an ideal candidate to carry on the good work that has been done by his predecessors. He is lucky to have a lot of mentors but even luckier to have a mind of his own. He can make the right decisions at the right time leaving as little damage behind him as possible. Even though he runs on the PN ticket, he is well respected and is known to build bridges.
It will be an interesting time for Valletta, times are changing and so is the Capital. Let us hope that whoever is at the helm, will have the methodology to find the right balance between the cultural, the commercial and the residential aspects of our beloved Valletta. Christian Micallef has five months to prove himself and secure the seat for a further term. I wish him the best of luck in his endeavour.