Local councils reform should include reform on how funds are used

Producing energy that powers homes and factories from fusion is still decades away, but researchers insist that this week’s achievement marked a significant advance

The document about local council reform issued by the PN earlier this week is a breeze of fresh air that goes beyond the petty daily clashes between the PN and the PL.

Local Councils were introduced by the PN as a means of decentralising power and giving each locality its own right to take decisions that impinge directly on it.

At the time, within the PN there were some who did not agree with the idea of the party in power giving up certain responsibilities to local councils, more so in localities where it was obvious that the PN could never hope to gain a majority. Eddie Fenech Adami persisted because decentralisation for him was a political ideology – every decision should be taken at the lowest level of the social structure that is affected by the decision, he argued.

The Labour Party was also not so keen about local council. At first it refused to contest local elections as a party and put across ‘independent’ candidates that were obviously Labour Party candidates. This had the terrible effect of smothering genuine independent candidates. When it relented, the Labour local electoral machine proved more effective than that of the PN. Moreover, some PN voters chose not voting for their local council as a message to show their disagreement with what the party was doing on a national level. That is fair in the democratic game, I suppose.

In power, the Labour Party, rather than seeking to strengthen the local councils, did the exact opposite. Slowly slowly, the central government took many responsibilities back from the local councils. In roads, for example, councils were left with lack of funds while Transport Malta practically took over the maintenance of roads that theoretically was the responsibility of local councils. Even the local council’s control over the gathering of domestic waste is being eroded.

In other words, it is obvious that the Labour Party is not keen on decentralisation. It prefers the ordinary citizen to go and pester the minister with the most mundane requests because in Labour’s mentality, that is where the power lies. The PN document pushes for exactly the opposite of this attitude.

Going back to what the local councils were expected to do, the PN document insists that they should have the power to decide and implement things in their locality. On the other hand, the Labour administrations have created an environment in which councils are being constantly bypassed or find their hands tied on crucial decisions that affect their locality. Today the government is consistently chipping away the Councils’ responsibilities related to enforcement, planning, waste collection, street cleaning, traffic management, and street lighting.

The PN wants to move in the opposite direction. It wants more responsibilities to be allocated to local government and regional councils. It calls for government to undertake a five-year plan to devolve more responsibilities as well as for strengthening financial backing to these entities. This is the real purpose of decentralisation of power.

The logical argument that it should be possible for 16-year-olds to become mayors is a tricky one and unfortunately, the media has emphasised this point while not giving the rest of the document the attention it deserves.

Before arriving at the conclusion of 16-year-olds having a right to become mayors, one should study the civil status of 16-year-olds as it is today. A 16-year-old cannot make a public contract, for example. Having 16-year-old mayors would create an anomaly and upset the apple-cart. Unfortunately, I think the PN did not delve into this issue as much as it should. As a result of this matter being given prominence by the media, many will think that this is what the PN reform document is all about.

Unfortunately, the issue of the need for reform in the way local councils manage money, is practically ignored by the PN document that insists that local councils should be given more funds.

It seems that the PN document was prepared before the recent study published by the Auditor General that has uncovered too many instances of weak financial control in local councils. Perhaps, the writers of the PN document finished their work before they had the opportunity to peruse the report of the Auditor General!

Any reform of the local councils’ situation cannot ignore this aspect. Local councils have proven to be generally weak in their observance of financial regulations. Surely, one cannot talk of giving them more money, while ignoring the fact that many of them do not manage their money according to financial regulations.

A reform of the local councils involving their powers should also include a reform in how they act wherever use of government of funds is involved.

Even so, diluting the importance of local councils, so that power remains in the hands of some Minister angling for votes, should not be acceptable.

Fusion breakthrough

Last Tuesday, US scientists announced that for the first time they have produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to produce it, and hailed this achievement as a breakthrough in nuclear research. Fusion works by pressing hydrogen atoms into each other with such force that they combine into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy and heat. Unlike other nuclear reactions, it does not create radioactive waste.

Net energy gain – that is, producing more energy than needed for its production – has been an elusive goal because fusion happens at such high temperatures and pressures that it is incredibly difficult to control.

This success will pave the way for advancements in the future of clean power. The US Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, said that fusion ignition is “one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,” adding that the breakthrough “will go down in the history books.”

Proponents of fusion hope that it could one day offer nearly limitless, carbon-free energy and displace fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources. 

Producing energy that powers homes and factories from fusion is still decades away, but researchers insist that this week’s achievement marked a significant advance.

US President, Joe Biden, described the breakthrough as a good example of the need to continue to invest in research and development, saying: “Look what’s going on from the Department of Energy on the nuclear front. There’s a lot of good news on the horizon.”