32nd Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities – 28-30 March 2017 - Local democracy in Malta

Statement by the Hon. Dr Stefan Buontempo, Maltese Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government

29 March 2017

President of the Chamber of Local Authorities, Mr Anders Knape

Members of the Chamber

Rapporteurs of the Malta Report

Esteemed colleagues

It is is my pleasure and honour to be able to address the Council of Europe Chamber of Local Authorities.  Since this is my first opportunity to do so, i would like to signify my sincere appreciation at the work done by both Chambers of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities with a view to strengthen local democracy within all the Member States of the Council of Europe.

The work of both the Chamber of Regions and the Chamber of Local Authorities in the areas of regional cooperation, sustainable economic regional development, good governance and evalution of the situation of local democracy amongst the 47 Council of Europe member states is indeed quite laudable and serves not only a tool to ensure compliance to the standards and rights enshrined in the Charter but also as a trigger for further development in strengthening local democracy.  My Government, therefore, welcomes the review done by the Congress with respect to the Member States’ compliance to the Charter. 

The setting up of local government in Malta twenty four years ago was, in fact, modelled on the rights and standards set by the European Charter for Local Self-Government.  The relatively short period during which local government as a statutory authority has been in operation in Malta has seen several significant developments.  By way of example, the present Government’s Electoral Manifesto has dedicated a whole Chapter to Local and Regional Government, whereby 30 proposals have  been put forward.  These include  strengthening local citizens’ rights (such as extending the right to vote to persons who have attained the age of 16), adopting measures that reduce beuracracy for the benefit of local communities, introducing measures that strengthen transparency and accountability, reforming local enforcement to render the system more citizen-friendly, facilitating the use of public property for the benefit of local citizens, assisting local government to embark on social measures, ensure security through measures that combat crime, giving grant schemes that assist local government to embark on social, environmental, cultural and sport initiatives, including measures that promote a healthy lifestyle.

Further to the bilateral meetings held between the Monitoring Committee and the Maltese authorities with respect to the situation in Malta, we have carefully analysed the reports on Malta’s compliance with the Charter and I would like to respectfully put forward my Government’s observations and comments, correcting factual errors and highlighting significant positive developments that have been introduced recently or are underway.

The overall impression given in the Monitoring Committee Report is that Malta adheres to less than half the provisions of Charter [12 compliant, 3 partial compliance, 15 non-compliant].  We are saddened that some of the conclusions were based on erroneous or misleading information that might have been given.  We have already submitted written remarks and clarifications in this respect as well as highlighted the initiatives and developments that have been undertaken to strengthen local democracy in Malta.

Please allow me now to highlight some of the important initiatives undertaken by the central Government to strengthen and support local government in Malta. 

The first notable development was the setting up in 2013 of a Parliamentary Secretariat specifically for Local Government.  This was the first time in our Public Administration that a Minister or Junior Minister was give the sole responsibility for local government as his portfolio.

Another important development was a restructuring process commenced during 2016 leading to a new Local Government Division comprising two directorates:  the Department of Local Government Monitoring & Support and the Directorate for Decentralization and Policy Implementation. The new organizational structure is aimed at strengthening the central administrative structures with a view to renderng more effective and efficient services.

Central Government’s commitment to effectively assist local authorities through the provision of the necessary resources was amply demonstrated through the substantial increase in the financial allocation to local councils for 2017 as compared to the previous year, amounting to €2 million in direct funds and €1.956 million for special initiatives, a total increase of €3.956 million from the financial allocation for the preceding financial year.

During 2016, a Local Government Good Governance Working Group was set up under the Chairmanship of the Director General, Local Government Division which comprises representatives from the Local Councils Association, the Association of Maltese Local Council Executive Secretaries, the Office of the Auditor General and the Department for Local Government Monitoring & Support.  Besides serving the purpose of making recommendations to strengthen good governance practices at local level, this Working Group also serves as a consultative forum.

New systems and procedures were recently adopted to enhance the supporting role of the new Department for Local Government Monitoring & Support, through Circulars both for information purposes as well as for standardization of procedures. 

Training for local government officials was also intensified.  By way of example, in th epast couple of years, through an ESF project, training was provided for 76 local government officials which was certified at Qualification level 5.

Finally, it is my pleasure to state that with respect to the measures indicated in the Electoral Manifesto under Chapter 19, which is solely dedicated to Local Government, to date my Secretariat has delivered 92% in regard to the 30 electoral measures. This amply illustrates my Secretariat’s commitment towards strengthening local democracy and rendering local government more efficient, effective and closer to the citizen.

My Government is committed to implement further initiatives that strengthen local democracy in Malta, including the facilitation of local government services through central government schools and sport facilities, the provision of Grant Schemes that allow local councils to embark on social projects, such as projects that assist vulnerable groups within local communities, combat criminality and enhance the wellbeing of local citizens.  These measures will be implemented through special funds that would be allocated to local government authorities in the current year.

Mr President, once again I thank you for the opportunity to put forward Malta’s position.  My Government is committed towards strenghtening local government as has been amplified by the examples given earlier on.  We deem the Charter as the basic document that guarantees the required standards and guarantees to safeguard local democracy.  Our local government legislation has, in fact, mainly been based on the Charter in its drafting.  As a long-standing Member State of the Council of Europe (we have been members since 29 April 1965 – i.e. more than half a century), Malta is committed to safeguard human rights and democracy, including local democracy, and in this respect we would be evaluating the final Report on Local Democracy in Malta to address any real of perceived non compliance to the Charter.

Dear Members of the Chamber of Local Authorities, I re-affirm my sincere appreciation to the work done by both Chambers of the Congress and wish you every success and satisfaction in your work towards strengthening local democracy.