Category: Human Rights

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Incorporating Resident Engagement into Decision-Making Processes

To enhance our democratic institutions, it’s imperative that we create an environment that fosters strength and productivity, particularly at the local level. This is achieved by establishing mechanisms that ensure that within all levels of government work everything is carried out in the best interest of the community. This involves keeping residents well-informed and actively engaging them in decision-making processes.

The term “resident” holds a broader significance than initially perceived. While not everyone in our society is recognized as a citizen, all individuals living within a country, regardless of their citizenship status, are considered residents. Therefore, the term “resident” encompasses and includes everyone.

Residents should be aware of their rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in decision-making and the obligation to do so. To facilitate this, residents should be well-informed to actively contribute to the formulation of recommended policies. Engaging residents, especially at the local level, ensures accountability for their elected representatives and extends to public services and central government operations.

At the local council level, the term “resident” signifies the connection between the Local Council and its residents. Residents possess both rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in decision-making and the duty to do so. This combination underpins local democracy, a fundamental pillar of our communities’ well-being and development.

The Local Council plays a pivotal role in this social mechanism. When effectively managed, it directly enhances residents’ quality of life. This synergy indirectly benefits local socio-economic development, creating a two-fold impact across the nation.

When resident participation is lacking, it results in a democratic deficit within society and the community. It not only impacts social aspects but also hampers collective development, potentially leading to challenges in delivering effective public services for local and central governments.

Individuals are the driving force behind this mechanism. While the Local Council is responsible for establishing systems and platforms that provide residents with access and opportunities for participation, residents must also utilize these opportunities wisely, offering suggestions that lead to the acceptance and smooth implementation of decisions.

Civil society also plays a significant role as various issues addressed by civil society directly affect their communities. It is crucial for them to advocate for residents’ views, particularly on matters such as transportation, social housing, subsidies, public spaces, the environment, and more.

Democracy implementation

Implementing such a mechanism is advantageous for democracy as it fosters transparent, inclusive, legitimate, and accountable political landscapes. Since the public plays a central role in decision-making, such mechanism cultivates increased trust in local and central government and the associated institutions.

This heightened resident participation is beneficial when implementing new strategies, policies, or initiatives as residents feel a sense of ownership over the decision-making process.  The inclusivity of ideas from various sections of society leads to more equitable policies and decisions, ensuring no one is excluded and every voice is considered.

When these practices are in place, the implementation of decisions becomes more accessible and allows for constructive feedback and opposition from various individuals or groups in society. This simplifies the transitional phases of implementation.

Structured Consultation Process

When initiating the consultation process, specific practices should be followed to ensure its effectiveness:

  • Clearly define the problem and reasons for change, indicating whether legislation is necessary to enhance the quality of life.
  • Establish a clear vision of the expected results while highlighting the tangible impacts of the decision.
  • Identify key groups that will be involved in the process.
  • Choose an accessible method for consultation, especially in today’s digital age.
  • Ensure that digital methods are equally accessible to all.
  • Maintain ongoing communication, updating stakeholders on the progress and outcomes.
  • Continuously monitor the consultation process, ensuring transparency.
  • Explain the rationale behind the decision-making process, promoting discussion and feedback, which, in turn, facilitates implementation.

All of these elements are vital, and as councillors and local councils, embracing the concept of active democracy is crucial to empower residents and involve them in the decision-making process. It is essential to provide the best platforms for residents to participate effectively.

At the local government level, promoting resident involvement in local politics is imperative. By reestablishing residents’ trust in local politics, residents are more likely to participate thus leading to lasting engagement and empowerment.

I strongly believe that if we don’t conduct this test of awareness, the public will continue to lose interest in Local Government, something that, once lost, may never be regained.

 

 

Mario Fava
President

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Children’s Participation at the Local Level

Over the last thirty years, the involvement of children has been widely recognized as a fundamental right. Children’s participation encompasses various dimensions of their engagement, with a strong connection to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which firmly acknowledges this right.

What is ‘Children’s Participation’?

Children’s participation can be best described as the active engagement of children, either individually or in groups, in processes and opportunities where they can express their thoughts and ideas, directly influencing matters that concern them.

This shift of power from adults to children ensures that children are not passive recipients but active participants in decisions affecting their lives. To foster this at the local level, open and respectful dialogue and consultation between children and adults are essential. It is crucial that adults do not underestimate or merely pretend to respect children due to their age; they should also recognize the need for mutual respect. The level of dialogue and consultation should, of course, be tailored to the child’s age.

What is the ‘Local Government’?

Local government refers to an institution established through constitutional legislation or executive authority to carry out specific functions within defined geographic areas. Elected officials within local government work in the best interests of their local communities, with a legal obligation to create the necessary platforms that allow full participation of residents in decision-making. This practice fosters a stronger sense of civic engagement and community belonging.

Why should children participate ?

Children’s participation is pivotal for sustainable development, effective governance, and the cultivation of local democracy. Notably, Sustainable Development Goal 16 underscores the importance of these factors, emphasizing good governance, inclusivity, participation, and representation in decision-making.

From a rights perspective, there is a compelling argument for children’s participation in local governance. While children have a right to participate, it also paves the way for the realization of their other rights. Certain legislations mandate that all governing bodies ensure the involvement and participation of children in implementing and monitoring decisions, whether legislative or otherwise. Articles also underscore the significance of adolescents’ participation in shaping their own rights.

Practically, there are additional reasons for improving interaction between children and adults. At the local level, it is essential to establish well-structured spaces and channels of communication between both parties. These should not be created only when needed like upon an upcoming election,  but should be an ongoing and integral part of daily life.

The importance of having a functioning model of participation is crucial not only for children but also for the adults who lead the local community. The information that can be obtained through participatory processes leads to the development of more sustainable projects, both in terms of financing and implementation.

It doesn’t make sense to invest large sums of money in a project that doesn’t cater to the diverse needs of children. Who better than the children themselves to understand what is required to provide suitable recreational opportunities for them? We shouldn’t merely ensure general participatory representation for children but also guarantee that children with different abilities or needs are included and involved. Not all children have the same needs or abilities. This underscores the critical principle of inclusivity. It’s important to remember that inclusivity cannot be achieved if we are not ready to ensure integration.

How Can We Involve Children?

Children should undoubtedly be engaged in everything that directly affects them or in which they may have an interest in the future.

For instance, discussions on environmental development should include children and their perspectives. In addition, children should be involved in conversations about community well-being, as they are integral members of these communities. Excluding children from discussions related to inclusion, diversity, culture, and integration is counterproductive. Engaging children in these discussions ensures that decisions made and desired for the future are better suited to the coming generations.

The local council’s role in all of this

Local councils play a central role in these efforts. They are obligated to establish the necessary platforms to facilitate meaningful dialogue. This dialogue should not be limited to addressing children’s rights but should also encompass local democracy and a bottom-up approach. As the closest authority to residents, local councils play a significant role as catalysts for children’s participation.

This engagement should not be pursued merely to fulfill a right; there should also be a strong conviction that children’s participation in decision-making and community development enhances the value of all our endeavours.

 

Mario Fava
President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Impact of Immigration on the Economy: A Corporate Perspective

The influence of immigration on the economy is often subject to shifting positions influenced by ethical, social, and political considerations, which evolve over time. These stances are shaped by the kind of world we aspire to create and maintain.

For instance, opponents of immigration contend that immigration precipitates rapid cultural and social transformation, while those in favour argue that it can bolster a nation’s economic prosperity, as observed historically in the United States and various European nations.

From an economic perspective, those in favor argue that immigration is beneficial because it increases the workforce, encourages innovation, and provides a larger pool of workers to fill shortages in various industries.

Conversely, opponents of immigration raise concerns about potential adverse effects on local workers, particularly those in lower-wage positions, as foreign workers are sometimes subjected to exploitation, leading to lower wages and potential job displacement.

However, what is the verifiable reality?

At times, it is suspected that opposition to foreign workers in our country, beyond extreme nationalist sentiments and racism, may be driven by other factors. Some individuals view immigrants and assert that they are competing with locals for jobs. They see foreign workers as taking opportunities away from domestic workers.

I often suspect that those who oppose foreign workers in our country, aside from extreme nationalist elements and racism, tend to divert attention from other issues. They scrutinize the foreigners and claim they’re the problem. They observe a dirty environment, work related injuries, wreckless driving and attribute all of this to foreign workers.  However, I cannot help but notice that these are symptoms that don’t really differentiate between whether you’re Maltese or a foreigner, as everyone contributes, everyone tends to leave litter around, observe no safety protocols, and everyone refrains from lack of safety measures. The common thread in all of this is a lack of enforcement, and  when we refer to  foreign workers because they dispose of trash early or have poor workmanship, it’s just an excuse, as there are also Maltese individuals who engage in these behaviors. Often, foreigners may not fully understand the system and might need guidance, but Maltese individuals should not use this excuse because they are expected to know better what they should do. So, using this as an excuse to claim that our country’s economic model doesn’t work because it relies on the population or foreign workers.

It is essential to acknowledge that a substantial portion of foreign workers among us originate from EU member states. Therefore, we must distinguish between European and non-European workers. These workers bring varying skills, creating a demand for different types of labour.

It is undisputable that sectors such as tourism, construction, healthcare, caregiving, financial services, and information technology do not need influx of foreign workers to operate without hindrance. These are just few arguments that are frequently seen on social media, claiming that our country should impose some kind of cap on how many foreign workers can work among us.

It is crucial to recognize that companies employing foreign workers also hire local workers. This goes beyond simply maintaining the status quo. It means that if private enterprises, both local and foreign, encounter challenges in securing the necessary foreign workforce, they may consider compromising the viability of their operations, potentially affecting Maltese workers in the process, to preserve their positions.

Looking from a different angle, immigration inherently leads to a population increase. While this is evident, some fail to grasp its direct economic impact, extending to the daily lives of these foreign workers in our country. They contribute to various aspects of our economy, from housing preferences to purchases of products and services. This not only benefits well-established businesses but also creates opportunities for smaller enterprises to thrive.

When these foreign workers join the workforce, their diverse skill sets lead to an intensified economic impact, which has been previously elaborated. This expansion often gives rise to numerous new businesses, thus fostering job creation.

In the sectors mentioned earlier where labor shortages were noted, one critical field was inadvertently omitted- waste collection. Although it often goes unnoticed, it plays a pivotal role in every nation’s operations. We depend on individuals who, come rain or shine, travel kilometres daily to collect the waste we leave behind. While this may be a job that few consider, it is essential for every country. It ensures that our streets and roads are free of refuse, even though most take this service for granted. If we were to lose these dedicated individuals, we should contemplate who among those critical of foreign workers in our midst would be willing to step into their shoes. We should also consider how many of those claiming that foreign workers are usurping jobs and salaries from Maltese citizens would be willing to undertake this job. This extends beyond economic concerns, as it influences the overall cleanliness of our streets and roads.

We are currently addressing not just the economic aspect but also the social aspect, as I wish to imagine the condition of our public spaces and streets if the generated waste is not properly managed.

When someone proposes or supports a “capping” on legal immigration, it impedes economic development and poses a risk to other employment opportunities. Rather than limiting immigration, it is essential for our country to streamline the bureaucratic and cumbersome framework without compromising security, to facilitate the process for entrepreneurs, investors, and companies requiring skills our nation currently lacks. For instance, a small business owner operating a factory in San Gwann’s industrial area might contemplate closing their doors due to the unavailability of workers. Is this the kind of impact those advocating a different economic plan would want to see? What is that plan?

The success of any nation relies on inspiring its populace to aspire to an improved quality of life. Restricting foreign workers in fields where they are essential hampers this objective. Such limitations only hinder our country’s capacity to respond effectively to challenges in sectors like healthcare and other areas.

Another issue is the declining birth rate in our country, which continually fuels the demand for workers. It also implies that over time, with an aging population, we will become more reliant on social services, such as pensions, with fewer contributors. This underscores that the assertion that foreign workers drain our social funds is unfounded. It is crucial to remember that many of these foreign workers, after residing in our country for several years, are not entitled to a Maltese pension, despite contributing to the social security fund and paying taxes during their stay.

Hence, it is crucial to participate in a well-considered and tactful conversation concerning this intricate matter. It is undoubtedly necessary to ensure that this does not end up into a political issue simply for the purpose of advancing our own political agenda or criticizing the government’s economic policies. The outcome is clear, as recognized by credit rating agencies, the European Monetary Fund, the European Commission itself, and other reputable institutions with expertise in this field.

While there are undoubtedly negative aspects to consider, as previously mentioned, it is evident that when weighing all the factors, there is no doubt that, given the prevailing circumstances, no progressive nation can afford to shut its doors to immigration. We need not look far for a precedent. Just a few years after the Second World War, several European countries, such as Germany and England, faced acute labour shortages, which significantly contributed to their economic growth.

If we look at what happened a few decades ago after the Second World War, we have a vivid example of how the European economy thrived in countries like Germany, England, and others.

 

Mario Fava
President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The active participation of residents in the decision-making process

The active participation of residents in the decision-making process that directly or indirectly impacts their quality of life is essential for sustainable development. This necessity holds particular importance and relevance at the local level, where residents live and work, where basic services are provided, and where businesses are established and flourish.

The community members all have a shared commitment to defining goals and working together to discover ways to enhance and simplify services, guarantee a fair distribution of resources, foster social inclusion, improve oversight, and boost transparency in governmental organizations. This includes establishing systems for responsibility and accountability.

Local Councils, being in close proximity to residents, possess a unique advantage over other institutions. They bear the responsibility and obligation to advocate for residents, mobilize civil societies, and, most importantly, act as catalysts for change.

This role becomes especially significant in an era of enhanced public administration efficiency, more inclusive development, stronger relationships with local associations, non-governmental organizations, and other entities, and the pursuit of solutions and aid for pressing challenges faced by local communities. These challenges encompass social exclusion, immigration, poverty, deficient basic infrastructure and access, urbanization complexities, public safety concerns, and issues related to violence, abuse, and law enforcement, not to mention the adverse impacts of climate change.

Good governance is imperative for ensuring sustainable, universally shared development. It also fosters a more effective and inclusive development process. The quality of governance primarily stems from the central government’s political will to create a local-level environment that empowers Local Councils with sufficient autonomy to execute their duties and responsibilities effectively, bolstered by increased professional resources and capacity. Quality governance at the local level also thrives through relationships and communication with other public entities, commercial communities, and residents who often rely on the resources at the disposal of Local Councils.

The expansion of public services at the local level, whether through the extension of existing services or the introduction of additional services by Local Councils, should be accompanied by strengthening local governance structures and greater investments in administrative capabilities and human resources.

Similarly, other local entities with the capacity and capability to promote increased transparency and accountability should also receive support. Furthermore, it’s vital to ensure that Local Councils have the necessary resources and incentives to provide residents with the highest level of accountability, swiftly and transparently.

This is particularly important because, in the principle of subsidiarity, the central government must actively promote the role of Local Councils as governing authorities with a significant and active role in policy development for national progress. These authorities should be able to take local decisions with the utmost transparency and accountability to provide the highest quality services to the community.

This reinforcement leads to ultimately contribute to more significant local development across various areas, including social justice, human rights, equality, active community involvement, increased participation of women, youth, and the elderly in the community.

Their involvement at social and political levels, environmental protection, local urban planning, the introduction and implementation of technology for more efficient management, sustainable mobility management, and the preservation and development of public assets all encourage a strong sense of participation and ownership. All of this should be accomplished with transparency and accountability, in conjunction with public entities, societies, and public associations.

This framework of territorial development, characterized by a bottom-up approach and a long-term process, is an integral part of the national government’s implementation strategy. Guided by Local Councils, this territorial system leads to an enhancement in the quality of life and the well-being of its residents.

 

Mario Fava
President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A crucial government decision – national political decision on the use of caravans

During the last days we have assisted to a very important decision taken by the central government towards the suspension of an application by Infrastructure Malta for a temporary caravan site despite the various comments on the rights and obligations of caravan owners. On the contrary one would also listen to various residents’ rights towards a free access to our beaches. Many are those caravan owners who during the summer period would occupy our beaches without leaving any foreshore access. For the general benefit and interest there should be various open discussions with different stakeholders the outcome of which could lead to better solutions in the interest of everybody.

 

Introduction

One needs to kick off from the point that not each locality has the benefit of open recreational spaces for its residents.  Moreover, there are a large number of families who live in apartments without an adequate balcony, yard or garden for their children to recreate themselves; therefore, the number of recreational zones is somehow imperative. We need to understand and take care of the social and recreative aspects of our residents; it transpires that a number of families can’t afford  a decent residence and would instead publicly occupy caravan sites, with the latter being their only shelter.

One has to exercise caution and adopt a wider approach to avoid conflicts amongst those with different priorities for the use of the same land including farmers.

Rural zones with lesser population, agricultural zones and natural resources are very scarce in Malta hence we should focus more on our priorities.

In order to avoid conflict, there should be a holistic plan in place when dealing with protected land, camping, hiking and picnic sites.  There needs to a clear distinction between open country spaces and coastal area spaces to avoid undue pressure on the latter.

This is considered to be a seasonal pressure; coastal areas might bear higher undue pressure during the summer months and could be the cause of conflict amongst those occupying the space with caravans and other residents who would visit the area for a couple of hours for recreational purposes. It would be unfair that the same individuals would hijack public zones and grounds for long periods.

One has to distinguish between structures that are trailer driven and electric camper vans.

 

Priorities

Undoubtedly, many believe that there has to be particular spaces allocated for this type of hobby. If this would be the case, there has to be an understanding of what is best for our country, especially for localities which are designated to host this recreational concept. Are we opting for smaller spaces in a larger number of sites or are we going for fewer but larger sites? Would we be seeking and understanding the impact this would have on the tourism industry? Are we seeing to the fact how these coastal sites could create conflict with the use of slipways not just because these would be obstructed, but also because of the additional issues of boat trailers’ owners who would want to take their boats to and from the sea through the boat ramps. Are we planning law enforcement?  This should be the point for a holistic discussion which the government has wisely decided upon.

Undoubtedly, smaller spaces scattered around the island create less impact than larger ones which are however fewer. This consideration is not just about the visual impact but also about the impact on the infrastructure, the overall upkeep, drainage system, water supply etc. I believe that in larger sites one needs to carry out an environmental impact assessment.  On the other hand, smaller sites scattered around the island are more difficult to be managed by the authorities.

 

The Local Council’s involvement

As like other matters happening in our localities, we have to understand the involvement of our Local Councils. It is a fact that caravan sites do create certain issues and very often police forces would need to be called in to take over situations which at times would go beyond control.

We, as a nation and society, are barely disciplined to protect the heritage that we own and which we are our bound to pass on to our future generations.

It is highly important that the Local Councils are to be involved in the making of such policies.  This is due to the fact that the Local Councils are the closest from all entities to the residents and their locality; elected members can easily understand the challenges of their residents since they reside with them round the clock. These situations are to be used to our advantage thus, because whatever is implemented can then be rarely opposed.

Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, Salini, Żonqor and Żejtun are some of the few challenging zones that come to mind. We have to carefully keep in mind other camping and picnic zones where in most of the situations one finds illegal structures that were meant to be temporary however ended up being permanent. These situations create conflict with the daily temporary users of the area.  This brings us back to the argument on the importance of law enforcement for the right balance of land usage.

 

Land permits and usage

One must clearly differentiate between temporary and short-term permits.  According to my current understanding, nowadays, there are only temporary permits without a clear indication of their expiry.  When considering a national policy will we be delving upon the issuance of daily, weekly or monthly permits? Should granted permits be automatically renewed following their expiry? Is it just that a caravan owner would leave his own car parked in the caravan space so that same would self-reserve his own space upon his return the following weekend? Is it fair that there isn’t better use of such public spaces with a fair chance of the same space being enjoyed by the public at large? Is it fair and just that some may choose to literally hijack the coastal area for the summer period leaving no proper access to the residents and hotel guests? Should there be an effective alternating system in the issue of permits, with a proper and organized waiting list for each indicated caravan site?

Each site has to be managed by an appointed site manager who will ensure that such abuse won’t happen. This role will be the communication link between the Local Council, the authorities and the caravan owners themselves. The latter should appoint an Administrator from amongst themselves for the sake of a faster and more efficient level of communication. I strongly believe that the Administrator and the site Manager can very efficiently coordinate a booking system that allocates booking slots and thus avoid over-crowding; this is beneficial both for the caravan owners and for the same site to be publicly enjoyed.

One should consider how this model could be jointly developed with the private sector where the government would appoint private companies to administer these sites.

I believe that these questions could stir a sound and interesting discussion for the proper identification of the most suitable mechanism for the running of similar sites.

 

New niche in the tourism industry

A holistic plan for this sector in the long run could create a new niche for the tourism industry. For this to be operationalised there needs to be a sight energy plan which should preferably be derived from clean and alternative sources, an infrastructure of rapid charging pillars, new drainage systems, water supply and other sanitary services including strong internet connections and other daily necessities for individuals to avoid unnecessary daily commuting.  It would be ideal should these camping sites be promoting local produce; this would give higher visibility and promotion to the local culture and traditions.  Such authentic promotion would give Maltese sites added advantage over European ones.

Should Malta be looking towards such concept we have to ensure a safe and sound transport connectivity between the airport, the caravan sites and Malta’s main attractions including Ċirkewwa, Valletta, Mdina and Kottonera.

These sites should bear sufficient information on pathways and rural cycling routes leading to certain areas of interest like Rabat, Dingli, Qrendi/Żurrieq, Siġġiewi/Għar Lapsi, Marsaxlokk/Tas-Silġ and others.

In such zones one could possibly consider the cultivation of fresh herbs for self-consumption.

All of these initiatives give our sites a local particular identity which would eventually attract tourists who would be specifically looking for these types of surroundings for their vacation.

 

Conclusion

These sites could provide a twofold experience to the tourists and local travellers; it’s either an unforgettable positive experience or otherwise a totally negative experience even to those who would not make use of such space.

Therefore, in each intervention one has to ensure that spaces which are designed to specifically cater for caravans should ensure higher standards of hygiene, protection of the environment, security and accessibility.

I believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to hobby caravan enthusiasts to be out and about, however this hobby has to be in conformity with the natural surroundings and those living in the area.

In all this there has to be total synergy and communication between the government entities and agencies for works to be carried out during the most appropriate periods. It would not make sense at all that structural works and sites identification are carried out during peak months when such sites would be high in demand and full of people as this could unnecessarily leave a negative impact.

I must say that political commitment coupled with proper planning and total synergy between all parties involved, towards this ever-growing sector could undoubtedly expand and generate public revenues.

 

 

Mario Fava
President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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The resident’s participation strengthens democracy – Għarb Local Council

This was the theme being discussed during the Conference which was organised in a leading Gozo hotel on Saturday 16 July.  The event also marked the 25th year of service the present Mayor David Apap Agius has given to the local council in his current role.

David – the people’s person

I have known David for quite a number of years and he is the type of character with whom you can tend to disagree on a lot of matters however, his outstanding trait is outstanding that one would know where he stands with him at all times. Besides, one can consider David to be a people’s person who would constantly know what is happening in his locality at all times. Along with other counsellors and Local Council staff he managed to uplevel Għarb to the extent of being the envy of other Gozitan and Maltese localities. This is due to the fact that they have managed to successfully participate in activities and initiatives which were beneficial to the residents of this picturesque locality; a locality which is yet unruined from the ‘progress’ of development.  David, wish you well and may you keep on pursuing with your work towards the Locality you believe so much in.

The Conference

The conference mentioned earlier on had the valid participation of various representatives from around Europe.  Participants from Poland, Serbia, Romania, Lithuania, Greece, Italy and Turkey participated in the conference which focused on the citizen’s participation in the strengthening of democracy.

Amongst the main speakers, there was the valid contribution of President Emeritus of Malta Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, Parliament Secretary for Local Government Onor. Alison Zerafa Civelli, regional president Dr. Samuel Azzopardi, Gozo speaker for the Opposition Hon. Alex Borg and Director for Local Government Marisa Pisani.

During my speech in this conference I spoke how the residents’ and citizens’ participation in decision taking situations constitute more vibrant democratic societies.  We can’t have a democratic society if there would not be the right and effective mechanisms of accountability; good local and regional governance are also of utmost importance. Good governance is key to the fundamental principles of local government leadership; it is the main pillar on which the local and regional European Council Charter of leadership is structured.

 

Nowadays, local governments are being faced with a number of challenges and hence the residents’ participation in decision taking is somehow crucial.  If the resident feels that he is not part of the decision taking mechanism and initial discussions and if he feels that the Local Council is not equipped to effectively implement change, he would eventually lose interest and the whole argument would fizzle down.

It is highly important that the resident is at the core of this decision taking mechanism; when there is enough subject knowledge and proper brainstorming then the consultation stage would be a somehow swift process and this would serve as a learning and improvement opportunity of the original proposals. With such a mechanism in place, the citizen and the resident would comfortably feel they pertain to their society and their region due to healthy discussions and consultations.  This is what constitutes democratic societies.

It is up to each council and region to find the best method of engaging their respective residents in any consultation process; this could take place in various ways and means including meetings, focus groups, conferences, referendums and others.  Practices which would work in certain councils and regions would not necessarily work in others.  The bottom-up approach is crucial and somehow very important.

Mario Fava
President

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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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Children and their Rights

The Office of the Commissioner was set up by the Commissioner for Children Act in 2003 with the main aim of safeguarding and promoting Children’s Rights as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The work carried out by the Office focuses on: the protection of children; the promotion of children’s rights; ensuring the provision of necessary services for children; and the participation of children. The office acts as a focal point which monitors the current social and cultural situation in relation to children. The Office of the Commissioner for Children strives to ensure that children are included in all decisions and actions that may affect them directly or indirectly.

The Office of the Commissioner for Children encourages and supports organisations, such as Local Councils, to involve children in their work. One way for Local Councils to involve children in their work, including urban planning, is through the setting up of a Children’s Local Council within each locality. Children make major contributions to the communities in which they live. Their energies, skills, aspirations, creativity and passion can bring about positive change.

For more information about the Office of the Commissioner for Children visit www.tfal.org.mt. For regular updates you can find us on facebook: @Comm4Children and on Instagram: cfc_mlt.

For information and support, the Office can also be contacted on 21485180 or cfc@gov.mt

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