Political parties and the local councils’ earthquake

Councillors would not have been better without the discipline of their political party.

A ‘report’ on The Sunday Times (5 September ) under the heading ‘Were the bishops right on councils?’ recalled that way back in 1993 Malta’s bishops had opposed the involvement of political parties in local councils – something that is normal in every country where there are local councils i.e. everywhere else in the world.

I could not believe my eyes when I read that the journalist had asked the two now retired bishops (Mercieca and Cauchi) whether they felt their stand 17 years ago was vindicated ‘in the light of the political storms involving councils.’

The basic assumption behind such a question is incredible: the integrity of a person depends on whether he openly wears the badge of a political party. If one does, is he/she more susceptible to temptation and wrong-doing than if one were not? Whether a mayor or councillor abuses of his/her position does not depend on whether he stood for election on a political party ticket, rather than as an ‘independent’ – as the journalist seems to unwittingly imply. It depends on the character of the person.

Political parties may be accused of picking the wrong candidates in their enthusiasm to field a formidable array of choices for the electorate to choose from even in an insignificant local council election; and by hindsight it is obvious that in some cases they should have known better.

However there is a positive flipside to all this. Mayors and councillors who put themselves in an untenable position were asked – even forced, perhaps – to resign by the party in whose name they had contested the election.

Had these been elected on their personal merits only and not on a political party ticket, there would have been no Paul Borg Olivier or Toni Abela taking disciplinary steps against them.

Would that have been better? Certainly not! I am sure that many would not have bothered to resign, claiming innocence. The discipline inherent to one’s belonging to a political party is a positive aspect in the so called local councils ‘earthquake’. That is not to say that those administering this discipline are perfect or infallible. Call it a necessary evil, but without this discipline the long-term effects of the ‘earthquake’ would have been worse.

Would the back-stabbing and dirty tricks, evident today even between councillors of the same party have evaporated into thin air if all councillors had contested the council election on an ‘independent’ ticket’? Of course not! Human beings with defects remain human beings with the same defects, whether they carry a political badge or not.

Seventeen years ago, the bishops were absolutely wrong in their stand on local councils. Whoever gave them the advice to speak out in favour of political parties being kept away from local councils was mistaken.

The defects and mistakes of humanity should be attributed to humans and not to the badge – political or otherwise – that they wear. The Church, of all institutions, should have known that.

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Martin Scicluna
I feel that i support Nikki Dimech.The fault its all coming or came i said coming cause soo or later that in Sliema might be anohter Local Council Elections. The fault is all from the General Secretary of the Nationaist Party and he will give next Election a defeat. What Mr Nikki Dimech did or not.GPO should not interfer or he could talk to him but ghandu rasu ibsa. I think as i said the only think is that it should be another Local Council Election. Nikki should be with PN not what the General Secretary siad and ovja the Prime Minister helps his Secretary not tal;king to a Mayor or Counsiller. This means Next General ELECTIONS pn will say ADDIO fil Gvern. then we see with LP in Government. Nigu ta tillet Dinja
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The Sliema matter should have been handled in a more democratic manner. Nikki Dimech should have been asked to suspend himself until court proceedings decide his innocence or not, whilst the deputy mayor would have taken over proceedings until such time Nikki would have been re-instated or not. If found guilty he would have to resign or a motion of no confidence brought against him then. But apparently Joanna Gonzi could not wait to get her hands on the mayorship and PBO was in a rush to eliminate competition on the 10th district. gonziPN has become like a pack of starving rabbid wolves who are at each others throat at the expense of the islands' well governance.
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Charles Gauci
"I did not say that the 'simple forcing of a resignation' constitutes the fulfilllment of the role politcal parties have in local council politics. It is certainly only a small part of this role. My point is that with independent candidates, the disciplinary aspect in the role of poltical parties would be lost in a vacuum." Sure. But that remains a summary criticism of the role of independents (and shortcomings thereof) without an appreciation of the benefits of the other alternative - party candidates. PL and PN have not shown that they have brought anything new to council politics except their suddent appearance all over the place whenever it is time to wash their hands of the latest embarassment. Like yourself I am in favour of party involvement in council politics but I also believe that both parties need to take a close look at their workings and see whether they have any remnant behaviour that remotely resembles service to the community. It's not the councils that need reforming but the party approach thereto. Having said that, what I said about conflicting interests re party funding still stands. Before that problem is solved we can forget about clean politics. But I guess you agreed with that point no?
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Alfred Galea
Local councils are just nurseries for the two socialist parties, just like unions are an extension of said parties. Another "bigshot"who thinks that the two parties are God's gift to the island and nothing runs unless they're involved......at a price of course.
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If my memory serves me well it wasn't just the bishops that were against political parties participating even the MLP was. In fact in the first council elections no one participated under a labour ticket, only after the PN made the councills a "porta voce" of the party and the independents were being treated like dirt did the MLP decide otherwise. The promise still stands for the MLP that if the PN pulls out the MLP will follow suit. Yes if party politics does not play a part the local councils would function better as there would be no pressure by the parties who should get, which tender. There will still be foolery but I still maintain that there would be more discipline. Todays PN majority councills are a reflection of Big Brother's mode of governance what is happening at the top is reflecting at the bottom. The only difference is that the councils are small fry whilst the sharks are having a party.
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What an unworthy blog. Sounds to me like another Government mouthpiece is trying to verify what GONZIPN and PBO did in SLIEMA was justified. Mr. Falzon are we to presume that an independent council would not have the intelligence to investigate and then vote to remove. Another insider who has no respect for the Maltese wit. How arrogant.
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This 'debate' on the workings of Local Councils seems to be attaching a very eerie meaning to ‘resignations’. It may suggest that any councillor who has resigned would have done so on the request of ‘the party’ for some grey black or bloody reason that is left to the imagination of a reader be it a fertile imagination or otherwise. This is of course very far away from the truth. Resignations are handed in for a multitude of reasons. Some of those who handed in their resignation would certainly have done so o their own accord and may have much to contribute to the debate. Unfortunately, however, most debates end up pushing main stream interests so visible in most debates on any given subject.
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I did not say that the 'simple forcing of a resignation' constitutes the fulfilllment of the role politcal parties have in local council politics. It is certainly only a small part of this role. My point is that with independent candidates, the disciplinary aspect in the role of poltical parties would be lost in a vacuum.
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Charles Gauci
While I cannot but agree that political parties have a role to play in local council politics I do not believe that the simple forcing of a resignation (or washing of hands) constitutes the fulfillment of such a role. As i argued here: http://www.akkuza.com/2010/09/02/impeachment-day-part-i/ I believe that parties are guilty (heavy word but sadly apt) of not having provided a proper training structure for their candidates. The casting of an unvetted wide net of candidates you rightly refer to is but one of the problems facing a potential reorganisation of the system within both PL and PN. A greater problem is the system of saints and sponsors that knows no boundaries between local level and main party. Can a local councillor be blamed for even assuming that party officials would not be pleased if he would not facilitate the life of a major party sponsor? I will not mince my words: If KONKRETE LTD is on a list of "sponsors" maintaining PN finances alive then what chances does Joe Bloggs - PN Mayor of Bomba - have of refusing their advances to reap local profits? The cicrcumstances may be a bit more convoluted and not so direct but we have been given enough reason to believe that such is the effect of PLPN participation within councils at the moment.