Let local decisions remain local

Creating another board is tantamount to removing the responsibility of hawkers’ stalls from the local councils and assigning it to a board loaded with the minister’s lackeys

To my mind, the clash about the Marsaxlokk open market confirms that the minister’s proposed Open Market Board is intended to appease the sellers at the expense of residents
To my mind, the clash about the Marsaxlokk open market confirms that the minister’s proposed Open Market Board is intended to appease the sellers at the expense of residents

Last November, minister for the economy Chris Cardona announced a White Paper that proposed the setting up of yet another board within the Trade Services Directorate of the Commerce Department to handle the administration of open markets. This means that local councils would no longer be responsible for the administration of open markets (monti) in their towns and villages. The White Paper was published ahead of a public consultation period of three months.

There are 21 open markets in Malta and Gozo which incorporate about 1,600 stall spaces. Under the present arrangements, local councils are responsible for the allocation of stall spaces. The councils also receive payment for damages caused by the hawkers.

The proposal announced by the minister seeks to remove open markets from the responsibility of local councils and move it to a proposed Open Market Board, whose remit will be to advise the economy ministry on possible new markets, conduct studies, handle complaints and monitor the various enforcement

The White Paper also proposed to establish an Open Market Compliance Promotion Unit, and the creation of a separate entity to focus on the allocation of stall spaces and permits. The latter two units will be also responsible for the licensing of street hawkers, buskers and commercial fairs.

Cardona argued that local government should not be burdened with the responsibilities to administer local markets but focus on more core issues – as if local open markets are not an important local issue. However, he insisted that councils would be represented in the proposed structure and would be consulted on any change.

The move to create yet another board was undoubtedly made in the interest of the hawkers and not in the interest of local residents. In fact, it is tantamount to removing the responsibility of the local councils and assigning it to a board that would be loaded with the minister’s lackeys, as is normal when such boards are set up.

This is all nonsense, of course, because the best people to regulate local open markets are the local councils who are in a much better position to see to the needs of their locality. These needs differ from one locality to another and the imposition of uniform rules over the heads of the local councils smacks of a return to the centralisation that existed before the local councils were set up twenty-five years ago. Instead of giving local councils more responsibilities, Minister Cardona seeks to curtail their power.

In the clash between the hawkers and the ordinary citizen, the Minister seeks to appease the hawkers and not the people.

Now comes the news that the Marsaxlokk Local Council has asked residents to vote in a referendum on whether the locality’s open market should have a strict closing time or not. I am writing before the Saturday referendum result is known, although this piece will be published the following Sunday.

The clash between the stall hawkers and the Marsaxlokk residents cannot be clearer. The Marsaxlokk mayor was quoted in the press saying: “Today we have a situation where the stalls close up at sundown, and by the time that the promenade is clear of stalls, there is a mess and no one can enjoy the area.”

The vote would decide whether the market should close at 3pm, giving cleaners enough time to remove the mess left behind from the numerous stalls and still allow residents to enjoy a sunset stroll.

The Marsaxlokk Local Council is unanimously in favour of the Sunday open market along the wharf being closed by not later than 3pm. But the hawkers are up in arms dead set against it. They argue that forcing them to close at 3pm would affect their sales.

The truth is that in the case of Marsaxlokk, the volume of these sales depends on passing tourists more than on the local residents. Hence the interest of the residents is different to that of the sellers.

The association of open-air market sellers claims that some 300 families depend on the trade plied from the stalls along the Marsaxlokk waterfront and the early closing time was a financial death sentence.

To my mind, the clash about the Marsaxlokk open market confirms that the minister’s proposed Open Market Board is intended to appease the market sellers at the expense of what the residents of the locality feel.

It is indeed sad that 25 years after the establishment of the local councils – a successful experiment in the interest of subsidiarity – the current central government seeks to diminish the powers of councils in its own interest, rather than reinforcing them in the interest of the private citizen.

Let local decisions remain local.

Another ‘ad hoc’ arrangement

Nearly 50 migrants stranded at sea for weeks aboard two rescue ships arrived in Malta on Wednesday after a deal was reached with other EU member states to share the ‘burden’ of accepting these migrants.

In what was yet another ‘ad hoc’ agreement garnered by the Maltese Prime Minister – that also covered some 250 migrants that arrived in Malta in December – 176 are to be sent to Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. Another 78 will be allowed to stay in Malta, and 44 Bangladeshi migrants will be sent back to their country.

For several days, Joseph Muscat resisted the pressure made by several NGOs and others and refused to budge before the agreement was reached.

One could say that the Prime Minister managed to persuade other EU countries to share this particular burden at the expense of using migrants on ships facing very bad weather conditions, as pawns in a diplomatic game.

Whether such tactics are ethical or not is a moot point, but there is no doubt that if Joseph Muscat had not resisted the pressure, Malta would have ended with another 250 migrants instead of just 44.

I have no doubt that resorting to such ‘ad hoc’ arrangements every time that migrants are stranded on ‘rescue ships’ will become more and more difficult the more these arrangements are resorted to.

Paying off the Libyans to avoid such incidents has not produced the desired results, apart from the fact that in Libya these migrants face abysmally bad conditions.

Meanwhile, human traffickers keep making more money. Somewhere, somehow, something has got to give.

 

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