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Vote for merit and competence

There is much tweaking that needs to be done for the councils to become a model civic society.

5 March 2012, 12:00am
Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna.
The local council elections regrettably have always served to bring out the ugly side of the political parties which are all too involved in a punch and Judy show of mutual accusations and recriminations.

The party media, on the eve of local elections, is dominated by stories of corruption, abuse and insults. It's a pity because all in all the local councils have not only been a positive political development but are developing our democracy into a participatory democracy. Our villages are better kept and organised than prior to their introduction, and residents have developed a greater sense of pride in their village. They tend to attract - with many notable exceptions - persons committed more to their respective party than to the community and the immediate needs of its residents. They should not be seen as a stepping stone to parliament, but rather as a commitment to the town or village, placing the interests of the residents first.

They serve to place all parties on a 'war' footing, testing the ground for the big election day in a year's time. Core voters are wooed while persons not willing to vote are bothered, urged to collect their voting documents and hassled on election day for failing in their duty to vote. Nothing could be more nauseating for the electorate yet fruitful for the parties represented in parliament who - contrary to good electoral practise abroad - are passed over priceless information on who has and who has not voted. This is scandalous and should be brought to the immediate attention of the European Commission and parliament.

18 years after their inception, it's high time to take stock and to seriously consider implementing certain proposals. There should be a time limit on years of service - similar to the American system - as with the passage of time, bad habits can creep in together with the tendency of any long-serving mayor that he/she is more important than the council.

There should be a stricter vetting system of the candidates at which all their interests and assets should be made known to the electorate prior to the election. The political parties on whose ticket the candidate is contesting should do the vetting. All contracts granted by the councils should be up for public scrutiny, ensuring that the whole process is transparent. There should also be a public hearing, allowing residents the opportunity to make their views known and to have the contract scrutinised. The yearly budget and its implementation should be known to all residents, who should be given an opportunity to voice their priorities on the expenditure and running costs of the council. There should be a rule prohibiting all personnel working in government ministries from contesting. This will remove all perceptions that politicians are simply involving their subordinates in order to keep a firm grip on the council. Council meetings should be live streamed so as to allow residents to follow the proceedings without the necessity of leaving their homes.

The councils must be an extension of the wishes of the residents, close to the residents and placing residential interests before big business interests.

Concretely, this means placing recreational sites before development, encouraging more green areas, more open spaces and less built-up zones, more playgrounds and more day centres. Also, an environment with better pavements, roads and adequate street lighting.

Most of all the councils cannot carry on being a battlefield between the parties, oblivious that their very reason for being set up was to bring power closer to the people who for years felt humiliated at having to go directly to ministers for the most rudimentary of things, like street lighting and telephone applications.

We retain our misgivings on the dominance of the councils by the political parties. Indeed, councils bring the opportunity to the parties to contest but surely it would have been wiser to attract the better elements and encourage them to contest without the weight of the party tag.

We would like to see more independent councillors whose loyalties lie with the residents in the community rather than with a party. Accordingly, we urge voters on 10 March to vote for competence and merit rather than simply on a tribal instinct.