Parties divided over future of mini local councils

PN insists a legal notice on administrative committees will weaken the devolution of power, while government maintains it will reform hamlets' local governance

The government has voted against a motion to revoke a legal notice postponing the administrative committee elections which had to take place in May
The government has voted against a motion to revoke a legal notice postponing the administrative committee elections which had to take place in May

The government and Nationalist Party are divided on whether administrative comittees, mini local councils in localities such as Bahar ic-Caghaq, Burmarrad and Bubaqra, should continue to exist in their current form.

The issue revolves around a PN motion seeking to revoke a legal notice - published in March - which provides that elections for administrative committee members, which were to be held in May, “be postponed and held at any other date as published by regulations issued by the Minister”. 

A discussion on the motion in Parliament on Tuesday was characterised by the government insisting that the law would provide that a dedicated councillor to oversee Malta's hamlets - such as Bahar ic-Caghaq and Burmarrad - and the Opposition claiming it would actually postpone hamlet elections indefinitely, weakening the devolution of power.

READ ALSO: PN files motion to annul postponement of administrative committee elections

PN whip Robert Cutajar said that the government intended, through the legal notice, which will subsequently be drafted into law, that administrative committees be effectively done away with, because “the Labour Party never believed in local councils.”

“It is a pity that 26 years since the Nationalist Party established local councils, instead of discussing which new responsibilities to grant them, the government is instead reducing their remit,” Cutajar said, as he went through a list of positive changes the administrative committees across Malta’s localities had brought into effect.

Nationalist PN Chris Said mirrored these sentiments, saying the legal notice would be postponing hamlet elections with the “clear intention” of shelving them indefinitely.

“This is worse than the previous time that the government postponed local council elections [in 2014], because this time round they are being permanently postponed. The intention is to cancel them forever,” Said said.

PN MP Chris Said
PN MP Chris Said

“The government took the easy way out in the face of challenges faced by administrative committees, and just moved them out of the way. I introduced them in 2010, and Silvio Parnis will be the one to remove them," he quipped, taking a dig at the parliamentary sectretary for local government.

On his part, PN MP Karol Aquilina questioned to which date the administrative committees would be postponed. “How can they be postponed without a date being set?” he asked, “If the government really wants to postpone such elections, can it tell people when they will actually be held?”

Labour MP Alex Muscat, however, stressed that administrative committees were “an experiment which had failed” and now had to be addressed in a different way.

He said that the legal notice would not be removing such committees, but would instead be requiring from the mayor of the particular local council to appoint a councillor who would specifically be responsible for the hamlet.

“It is not at all factual that we are removing administrative committees. These will remain there as part of the local council, but there will be a councillor appointed to oversee them. We will be giving them a new tool, not taking away any powers from local councils,” Muscat underscored.

“The money allocated to the hamlets will not be touched, so no funds will be deducted from the local councils.”

Local government parliamentary secretary Silvio Parnis
Local government parliamentary secretary Silvio Parnis

Muscat also referred to the low turnout - 33% - for the last hamlet elections compared to that of local councils, which he said proved that residents themselves saw no additional value to having administrative councils in their current form.

Local government parliamentary secretary Silvio Parnis argued that administrative committees were experiencing a number of problems which had to be addressed.

Parnis remarked that of the 16 administrative committees, during the 2014 electoral round, 11 held no elections whatsoever.

He said the law would be providing for a councillor to be responsible for the particular administrative committee. "I can't understand how [the PN] can say that we are doing away with them."

He also reiterated that the budget allocated to the administrative committees would remain in place.

"Chris Said said my party and I would be remembered for removing administrative committees... If I will be remembered for this, Said will be remembered for breaking apart local councils in Gozo," Parnis said in a rebuttal to the Gozitan PN MP's comments.

A divison was called on the motion's vote, which will be held next Wednesday.

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