Councils like dogs fighting for a bone when it comes to finances

Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat say rethink is needed for local concils' budgets. “Every council is asking for different things, but are all united by one request: finances.”

Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat
Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat

Siggiewi mayor Karol Aquilina (PN) has defended the actions of Mosta mayor Shirley Farrugia – embroiled in a conflict of interest over a report on the surfacing of roads – but said he would have stepped down from the mayorship to be able to defend himself had he been in her shoes.

It was a lively debate on local councils on PBS’s Reporter, in which Mosta’s Labour minority leader Alex Muscat brought up allegations that dozens of roads were left out of a report on the state of Mosta’s roads, which had been compiled by Farrugia’s husband’s company and in which the locality’s mayor was also a shareholder.

It is alleged that Farrugia attempted to mislead parliament by presenting it with an out-dated version of the report to disguise the poor state of 90 of Mosta’s roads.

“It is clear that any possible conflicts of interest must be revealed beforehand,” Aquilina said, but added that in this case it appears that the mayor appointed her husband to compile a report about roads in Mosta which she paid herself. “The council did not pay a cent.”

Host Saviour Balzan asked whether the outcome of the local council elections was a reflection of national issues.

Aquilina said that while no party can afford to ignore their outcome, the local council elections are decided on local issues and the results should not be extrapolated on a national level. “These are not do or die elections.”

Josianne Cutajar, Labour minority leader in the Nadur local council, clearly disagreed. “National issues affect everyone, including those of residents of those places which have local council elections.” Cutajar pointed to the recent announcement on the opening of a Barts medical school campus in Gozo as an example, and said she hoped voters would look at the past two years under Labour “and see the measures taken to combat the neglect of the previous administration.”

But Noel Muscat, Nationalist mayor of Swieqi, expects voters to be more concerned about local issues. “Here we are talking about the administration of a locality. We don’t do politics.” Asked how much weight he gave the local council elections in a national context, he replied “zero. For me personally, this is a local council.”

Muscat said that a rethink was required with the budget for local councils, however. “Every council is asking for different things, but are all united by one request: finances. We were promised a different style of administration and then €1,000,000 had to be shared between 86 councils, like dogs fighting over a handful of bones.”

He questioned the point of having a council responsible for the upkeep of a locality’s roads when there were no funds available for this purpose and suggested the public-private partnership route was one worth exploring. “The government had turned around the Enemalta situation – why not also commercialise certain areas of towns, allowing the private sector to help government?”

Karol Aquilina added to these proposals. “First of all, the formula for allocation of funds needs to be revisited. Secondly, the VAT paid by councils on contracts should be reallocated to the council. In Siggiewi this comes to €70,000-€80,000, enough to repair two roads. Thirdly, financing should be planned over three years in tandem with the tenure of the council.”

Asked what he expected the outcome of the elections to be, Alex Muscat was the picture of optimism. He was confident the electorate was not about to desert the PL just yet. “Joseph Muscat is saying that we still have the drive and motivation to work after two years. The people will judge. We are seeing that this government is delivering on its promises.”

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