Category: Human Interest

What do the residents think about their Local Councils?

What do you, as a reader think about your Local Council? How comfortable are you with the way matters are being conducted in your locality? In line with the Local Government’s financing, how much do you think is your Local Council giving back to the community in which it operates? Do you feel well informed about what is happening within your Local Council?

These are the typical self-questions one should be making when casting the vote to elect the Local Council representatives every five years. But more than getting an answer for one’s own questions, it is crucial that your respective Local Council would be sensitive enough to your replies. This is the only way forward how Local Councils would improve their existing services while introducing new ones and transfer their financial allocation from one fund to another according to their residents’ needs The way the resident feels on how much informed is he about what is happening in their locality though their Local Council is automatically reflected on the level of trust the resident would have on the same Local Council and it’s elected members. Keeping the residents informed and involved makes the resident feel part and parcel of what is going on. No matter the hard work of the Local Councils, residents who are not kept up to date about what is going on would automatically relay the wrong message of a  non-performing Local Council.

Some of the councillors might reason out that negative comments are only a perception; this is undoubtedly a wrong attitude. There are mechanisms in place which a Local Council could adopt from time to time to gauge the resident’s perception about the work being carried out within their Local Council.  Should we remain insensitive to our residents’ needs and keep on assuming that this is just a perception, this attitude would eventually result in a lack of trust vote when the residents would be casting their vote

The time has come for Local Councils to adapt to change and current times and be more accountable towards the electorate who elected them and to the Local Government who each year would dish out millions of euros for an effective decentralisation process.

For this transition to happen, Local Councils need to have in place a comprehensive evaluation model which could gauge their work objectively. For this to be achieved, one needs to have in place a scientific model based on an Empirical research.  This model should initially lead to a better understanding of the citizens in each locality along with a better and solid understanding of how much the Local Council would be diligently affecting its duties in line with the Government’s strategic objectives.

If we really need to elevate the role of the Local Councils, this research should help us understand what the residents actually think and feel about their respective Councils. This actually establishes what the residents really want, what is important for them and what actually makes a difference in their lives and those of their families. However, this is not enough, as it is useless to just know what people think or want.

It is somehow very important to establish the limitations of the Local Councils their functions and whether they could actually carry out their duties without hindrance and excessive bureaucracy. Following this evaluation, one needs to understand the difference between what the residents actually believe versus what is achievable from the Local Council’s side.

We need to understand what is actually hindering the Local Councils from actually achieving their residents’ expectations. One needs to ask what are their financial and legislative restrictions?What are the shortcomings when it comes to human resources? How come no one applies for any vacancies within the Local Council? Is a career within the Local Council considered as a ride in the park or shall one actually give more value to this role which could be more considered as a mission rather than just an employment?

This exercise does not only shed light on the residents’ perception about the Local Councils, does not only establish the limits and restrictions of the Local Councils and the lack of uniformity that exist within the Local Councils themselves but actually defines the characteristics which create these differences.

What follows this process is the most critical and the most important. The next steps would be the setting up of a number of recommendations on the findings which would eventually lead to the neutralisation of such differences. The recommendations could vary and could include:

  • An educational campaign with the residents to help them better understand the role of the Local Councils
  • An educational campaign for the general public which clearly differentiates the roles of the Local Government and the Central Government
  • An adjustment to the mechanism of the financial allocation
  • Adjustment to the Local Councils’ functions
  • Improved overview of the subsidy and decentralisation principles
  • An overview of the Local Councils’ planning
  • A reform on the Local Government division
  • A reform in the administration of Local Councils
  • Discussion on the roles of the elected members within the Local Councils
  • Discussion which leads to a reform of the Mayor’s role and other members

This exercise should be the basis of a renewal and a reform within the Local Government.  Since 1993 there have been a series of amendments, updates, reforms and renewals however, these barely took place in line with the residents’ expectations.  These only happened based on the agenda of the leading politicians during that particular period.

If the resident is always at the centre of the Local Council’s work plan, how much more should the resident be at the centre of this renewal process?

Following thirty years of Local Government, I strongly believe in the next steps. We have to forget what happened, what we have and what we were used to; a thirty-year span seems quite lengthy but within the new structural framework of the Local Government, the length of this period is next to nothing; thirty years are not a generation.

For this to happen, the government has to be the catalyst to initiate a new thinking process and launch new models. As the reigning political party, the latter has to take the bull by the horns and ensure that the Local Councils will remain relevant and adapt themselves to the current situations.  Each reform has to be forward looking and should keep developing on the current framework.

Undoubtedly, it goes without saying that the time for a change has come. The Local Government has to be looked into more diligently; to date this process has always been compared to a patient who despite of being aware of his medical condition keeps on masking his pain by taking pain killers rather than treating the source of his illness.

Local Councils have always made an impact on their residents’ lives however there is much more to be achieved. Each reform which needs an implementation process and has to have the entire backing of the politicians, the administrative staff, mayors and councillors. Coupled with the positivity and transparency, this process needs efficiency. These three key ingredients would guarantee a fresh and must needed change to the local and regional councils.

The Association of the Local Councils coupled with the assistance from the Government is all set to be the catalyst of this reform; if this reform happens in an effective manner it would be paving the forthcoming three years for Local Councils.

 

Mario Fava
President

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What should you do if you believe you were scammed?

If you believe that you have uncovered a scam or you were the target victim of one, ĠEMMA advises you to report this. Do not let the scammer get away with it. Remember that there are vulnerable people who may not have the knowledge you have and may be at a high risk of being scammed unless the scam is stopped.

The following are entities to whom you may wish to make the report:

Cyber Crime Unit at the Malta Police Force

You will find the website of the Cyber Crime Unit on this URL: pulizija.gov.mt/en/police-force/police-sections/Pages/Cyber-Crime-Unit.aspx.

You can contact the Unit as follows:Online:computer.crime@gov.mt; telephone: +356 2294 2231/2.

In person:  Call or visit any Police District station and lodge a report.  The District Police Officer will request the assistance of a member from the Cyber Crime Unit as required.

Your bank

If you are the victim of a debit or credit card fraud, contact your bank immediately. Do the same if you lose your debit or credit card.

The revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) establishes that if you, as a client of a bank, have lost or had your debit or credit card stolen, and it transpires that a fraudulent transaction has occurred after you notified your bank of the loss of your card, you are only liable to pay a maximum of EUR 50.

It is, however, important to note that you will not be entitled to any refund for losses relating to any unauthorised payment transaction if you have incurred such losses by acting fraudulently or by failing to fulfil your obligations with intent or gross negligence.

Complaints and Conciliation Directorate at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority

You will find the website of the Complaints and Conciliation Directorate on this URL:www.mccaa.org.mt/Section/Content?contentId=1193.  You can contact the centre as follows:  online:info@mccaa.org.mt; submission of an online form: mccaa.org.mt/home/complaint; freephone:356 8007 4400; and in person as follows: Mizzi House, National Road, Blata l-Bajda, Gozo: Elizabeth Street, Xewkija, Gozo

ĠEMMA has on 21st June 2021 signed a strategic partnership with the Local Councils Association.  Both ĠEMMA and the eSkills Malta Foundation are working the Association so that come October 2021, monthly public fora are held on scams and fraud in local communities.

Article prepared by ĠEMMA (within the Ministry of Social Justice and Solidarity, the Family and Children’s Rights)

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The 10 Commandments to protect yourself against scams and fraud

ĠEMMA strongly advises you that you follow these 10 Commandments religiously at all times to protect yourself from scams and fraud:

01Watch out for scams.   Scammers target you anytime, anywhere, anyhow.
02Do not respond.   Ignore suspicious emails, letters, house visits, phones calls or SMS messages – press ‘delete’, throw them out, shut the door, or just hang up.
03Do not agree to an offer straightaway.   Do your research and seek independent advice if it involves significant money, time or commitment, and get the offer in writing
04Ask yourself who you are really dealing with.   Scammers pose as people or organisations that you know and trust.
05Do not let scammers push your buttons.   Scammers will play on your emotions to get what they want, including adopting a personal touch. Alternatively, they seek to rush you into making a quick decision before you look into it. Remember there are no guaranteed get-rich-quick schemes!
06Keep your computer secure.   Always update your firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and buy only from a verified source.
07Only pay online using a secure payment service.   Look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol.
08Do not hand over money and information to someone you do not know and trust.   Any request for payment by an unusual method such as wire transfers, reloadable cards, or gift cards that are nearly impossible to reverse or track is a tell-tale sign that it is part of a scam. And if you do hand money … it is rare to recover
09Protect your identity.   Your personal details are private and invaluable. Keep them that way and away from scammers.
10If you spot a scam, spread the word.   Tell your family and friends, and report it to: computer.crime@gov.mt.

In addition to these 10 Commandments, keep in mind the following:

  • It is NOT always true that companies, businesses and enterprises are always legitimate. Scammers can easily pretend to have approval and registrations when in fact they do not.
  • It is NOT always true that all websites are legitimate. It is easy and cheap to set up a website. And an enterprise’s website can be easily copied by scammers who will want to trick you into believing it to be genuine.
  • It is NOT always true that scams involve large amounts of money. Sometimes scammers target many people and try to get a small amount of money from each person.
  • It is NOT always true that scams are always about money. Some scams are aimed at stealing personal information from you.

Last year, ĠEMMA (www.gemma.gov.mt) and the eSkills Malta Foundation (https://eskills.org.mt) signed a strategic partnership to disseminate knowledge on digital financial capability.  Fraud and scams is such one digital financial capability.  Jointly we have issued 4 e-books on scams and fraud (https://gemma.gov.mt/ebook-download-page/) and Infographics (https://gemma.gov.mt/resources/infographics/) on tips of how to protect yourself with regard to over 30 different scams and frauds. 

ĠEMMA has on 21st June 2021 signed a strategic partnership with the Local Councils Association.  Both ĠEMMA and the eSkills Malta Foundation are working the Association so that come Octover 2021, monthly public fora are held on scams and fraud in local communities.

Article prepared by ĠEMMA (within the Ministry of Social Justice and Solidarity, the Family and Children’s Rights)

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Do you know how a scam works?

Recently we have seen a spate of scams in Malta – including phishing, romance fraud and business email fraud.  News papers have reported that one business lost nearly €90,000 as a result of a business email fraud and over €100,000 have been defrauded from persons scammed by the Maltapost phishing scam.

In summer of last year, ĠEMMA (www.gemma.gov.mt) and the eSkills Malta Foundation (https://eskills.org.mt) signed a strategic partnership to disseminate knowledge on digital financial capability.  Fraud and scams is such one financial capability.  Jointly we have issued 4 e-books on scams and fraud (https://gemma.gov.mt/ebook-download-page/) and Infographics (https://gemma.gov.mt/resources/infographics/) on tips of how to protect yourself with regard to over 30 different scams and frauds.  Both ĠEMMA and the Foundation have been disseminating these over their respective social media channels.

This is the first of 3 articles we are presenting on scams and fraud to make people more aware of what scams and frauds are, basic but important cardinal protection measures one should taken, and what one should do in the event that they realise they are scammed.

Most scams follow the same pattern – understand this pattern and it will be easier to spot. The way a scam works is described here.

The Scammer’s approach:  A scammer will approach you with a story designed to make you believe a lie. S/he targets your emotions and behaviour – a chance to make money, to find a partner, to help somebody in need. Invariably the scammer will dress him/herself as a government official, a company – including branding names you are familiar with, an expert investor, a government official, a lottery officer, a lovely lady.  The scammer will use any one of these approaches:

EmailStill the favoured method. Cheap and a good way to communicate with many persons.
Social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), Dating sites, Online forumSocial media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), Dating sites, Online forum
Online shopping, classifieds, and auction sitesThese are used by scammers to trick you, with initial contact often made through reputable and trusted sites or fake websites that look like the real thin
Phone callsCalls are made by scammers to homes and businesses in a wide variety of scams, from threatening tax scams to offers of prizes or ‘help’ with computer viruses
SMSScammers tend to send a whole range of scams, including competition or prize scams.

The scammer’s tools are designed to get you to lower your defences, build trust in the story and act quickly or irrationally and proceed to the final stage – sending the money or providing personal information.  The scammer’s tools include:

  • Creating a sense of urgency so that you will not have the time to think things through and make you react on emotions rather than logic.
  • Similarly, using high pressure sales tactics saying it is a limited offer, that prices will rise, or the market will move and the opportunity will be lost.
  • Having all the hallmarks of a real business using glossy brochures with technical industry jargon backed up with office fronts, call centres and professional websites.
  • Using your personal details to make you believe you have dealt with them before, and make the scam appear legitimate.
  • Creating counterfeit and official-looking documents – documents that appear to have government approval or are filled with legal jargon can give a scam an air of authority.
  • Similarly, using high pressure sales tactics saying it is a limited offer, that prices will rise or the market will move and the opportunity will be lost.
  • Contacting you regularly to build trust and establish a relationship.

Asking for money may be set at the point of contact or after months of careful grooming. Scammers have their preferences for how you send your money. Methods vary: wire transfer, credit / debit card, bank transfer, Bitcoin, etc.

ĠEMMA has on 21st June 2021 signed a strategic partnership with the Local Councils Association.  Both ĠEMMA and the eSkills Malta Foundation are working the Association so that come October 2021, monthly public fora are held on scams and fraud in local communities.

Article prepared by ĠEMMA (within the Ministry of Social Justice and Solidarity, the Family and Children’s Rights)

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Thinking with different mentalities and priorities

It feels great when you do something that you’re normally told you cannot do.

When we were young, we heard these countless times; “Watch how you cross the road”, “Don’t play with the ball outside because you’ll get run over by a car”, “You can’t ride your bike on the road because you’ll get hurt”!!

Unfortunately, now that we have grown older, our children not only do not ask the questions that get them these answers, but rather take it for granted that they should not ask these questions to their parents in the first place, because they understand that it is simply impossible to do so on our roads.

It’s so lovely then if our children can do what we could not do and what they didn’t expect that they would be able to do. What am I saying?

Resident Access

More and more cities all over Europe, and even in the rest of the world, are taking initiatives, even radical ones, where during certain days and times, residents are given free access to principal roads to do exactly what they cannot do in normal circumstances. Roads are closed to private cars and are freely accessible for those who would like to walk, do exercise, use a bike, go out with their scooter, play with a ball etc.  

When we speak about equality, when we speak about quality of life, when we speak about children’s joy and contentedness, when we speak about the ways in which we socialise, when we speak about illness and the conditions that are brought about by mental health, when we speak about children who have conditions such as attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder, we rarely think about things like open spaces, accessibility, and equity for those who do not afford to buy a car and who have every right as those who do afford one to enjoy the roads and spaces of their community. 

Equality

What does equality mean within the scope of accessibility? Equality within the scope of accessibility means that everyone, independent of their financial income, has the same opportunity to enjoy what the state provides for free. That if someone affords a Ferrari and enjoys making use of our roads and spaces by cruising in their car, another person who does not afford to buy a car also has the same right to make use of our country’s infrastructure in other ways, in a safe manner and without the fear of possibly getting in an accident that would leave them confined to a bed for months.     

This can happen if the plans that are made for our towns and villages prioritise people, as opposed to prioritising cars. We need to start reasoning, thinking, and acting in different ways, so that our priorities are different. Priorities which will allow us to start thinking about how we want to live before we begin planning our towns. The main point should no longer be what type of transport we want to use, but what type of life we want to live. On the basis of this, we will plan and design means of transport, roads, and public spaces.

How does a city like Amsterdam, in which around two million people live, have 40% of people travelling by bike? You might tell me, “but there are no hills there”. In the centres of our towns and villages there are no hills either, and despite this, we still go fetch our carton of milk in our private car, we still go buy newspapers in our private car, we still don’t go to the pharmacy on foot. 

The difference between towns

What is it about our towns and villages that makes us want to live in them? To begin with, not everything is completely good or completely bad, but something one definitely does before buying a house in a different locality is checking or finding out how the other residents of the locality live, if there are play areas for children, if there are places to go for walks with their dog, if there are spaces where one can meet up or socialise.

These are the elements that distinguish one town from another, and not whether there are enough parking spaces. Because what makes a town or village beautiful? Is it the town that has the most parking spaces? I don’t think so. It is the town where one can go out and meet people. And so, how can an architect behind a desk draw a plan for public transport or for new roads without considering all of this? How can an architect, simply because they are an architect – without consulting what the residents of that town or village want – design a project that would split the locality in half? Shouldn’t the people’s and residents’ voices have weight before we even begin scawling on the drawing board?

When people go shopping, where do they choose to go? To a place where there is a road full of cars and to go from one shop to another you have to keep your eyes peeled to not get run over while crossing? Or to places where between shops you can find somewhere to stop and have a coffee, have a chat, sit down and have a snack? And if we are not going to make better use of our spaces that already exist, how are we going to improve people’s quality of life? What kind of quality of life is this, when we are frantically running around in cars to keep up with life, instead of finding the time to use the spaces that exist in localities and making use of the services that are already present in our own locality?

Walking is a right

People want to walk, not to live, but to be content. The children I mentioned previously, with the conditions I mentioned, want open spaces, not just to look at them but to play and calm their nerves, and so, their parents can have the peace of mind that their children can play and burn up their energy in a safe manner. If animals in forests want space to run, if birds want space to fly, don’t people want space to live? Humans were created with two legs to walk, and our first thought should be to provide places for humans to walk. This is the most sustainable means of transport from every aspect. Human beings were not created to fear leaving their house when they turn sixty or seventy because they might fall on the pavement, which has been blocked by a garbage bag that has been lying there for hours waiting to be picked up. An elderly woman did not turn seventy to walk on a pavement that is full of ups and downs depending on how many garages there are on the street, or to slip from a pavement because the material it is made from becomes slippery after a few months exposed to the elements.       

What I’m saying is not something you can prove scientifically, but it is something that you feel within you. If one had to ask; What do you prefer; walking on a pavement of one metre or a pavement of two metres? Obviously, there is no theory that says you will walk better on a pavement of two metres. This is because a sole person can walk on a pavement of one metre. But when you walk on a pavement of two metres and there’s a buffer between the cars passing on the road and you, a buffer made up of trees, it is obvious that you will feel better and have more fun walking. It is likely too that that difference would be enough to give you the courage to stop using your private vehicle to carry out errands up to a kilometre or two away from your home, and to start doing them by walk. This is the quality of life that we need to talk about. This is like when you need to have a meeting. You could do it in a classroom between four walls and you could do it in a small theatre room that gives a better sense of space that will result in more participation from the participants. If you carry out the meeting in a small dark room, without any natural light, the participants will probably complain, even if just to themselves. The same can be said for our towns and villages. You can have that locality where anything goes, while, on the other hand, you can have a locality that gives aspiration and a greater sense of community, together with a sense of membership amongst residents, that makes them proud to live there and not in some other locality. 

The social aspect

From the dawn of time, humans were created to meet and mix with other people. How can this happen if we are not providing places for people to meet? People want to be in contact with nature, with trees, with greenery, with water. The town or village that is suitable for persons with a disability, for people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly or children, that is accessible for those who have a low income, is the town or village that is good for the whole population. We cannot plan towns and villages that lead to the exclusion of part of the community. We cannot only think of large shopping complexes with designer brands, places where people of a certain income can go for their outings. We also want places where those who afford a walk will also find a place where they can go. 

When we say that citizens are all equal in front of the law, this is a very powerful statement. Since this is the case, the common good should be placed before private interest. This makes a lot of sense when looking at public places that have become privatised, such as beaches, parts of paths to the sea, and others. Especially when these are in urban spaces, they should never be given to the private sector for exclusive use by the owner, with residents then having to pay in order to make use of them or to access them. If they are to be given over for business purposes, and I understand that this should sometimes be the case, public access must be kept open.  

Conclusion

This all requires a change of mentality, in our culture, in our priorities. I shall close with the following as I believe it leaves a lot to think about;

The problem in all this is that we have become so accustomed to the idea that this is the only way that we have to live by, that we have taken it for granted that things cannot change and that we have to be reactive to what is happening today, instead of working to be proactive with regards to what we can leave our children for the future.  

Article by Mario Fava – President of the Local Councils’ Association

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