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

Statement by Stewart Dickson (United-Kingdom, ILDG), Co-rapporteur on Local democracy

29 March 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to present to you today the draft recommendation and the report on local democracy in Malta, which were approved by the Monitoring Committee at its last meeting in February.

The monitoring visit to review the state of local democracy in Malta took place four months ago, from 22 to 24 November last year.

The delegation was composed of Risto RAUTAVA and myself in our capacity as rapporteurs on local democracy, as well as George COUCOUNIS as expert. Unfortunately, the co-rapporteur was not able to participate in the meeting due to the electoral campaign in Finland. You know that local elections in Finland will take place on 9 April 2017 and that’s why the Finnish delegation is quite absent at this session.

It was the third monitoring visit to Malta, the previous two having taken

place in 2002 and 2010 resulting in the adoption of Recommendations 122 (2002) and 305 (2011) on local democracy in the country.

During the visit, we met with Mr Stefan BUONTEMPO, Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government of Malta. On behalf of our delegation, I would like to welcome you, Mr BUONTEMPO, today in the Congress. I hope we will have an open and constructive dialogue about the state of local democracy in Malta.

During the visit we also met the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Parliament, the Auditor General, the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of Malta, the Ombudsman.

We discussed topical issues with the representatives of local authorities from Valletta City, the local councils of Żebbug, Mosta, Gharb and Senglea as well as Gozo Regional Committee. We, of course, also met with representatives from the Congress delegation and the associations.

I would like to thank, on behalf of the monitoring delegation, all our Maltese colleagues who contributed to the organization of the visit, including the Permanent Representation of Malta to the Council of Europe.

We noted with satisfaction that since the last official monitoring visit to Malta in 2010, certain amendments to Maltese legislation have been adopted, which improved the status of local self-government in the country.

However, Maltese self-government still faces numerous challenges in the context of conformity with the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

That is why I believe that the general situation with local democracy in Malta needs our particular attention.

First of all, we have concerns about the absence of the explicit or direct recognition of the principle of local self-government either in the Maltese Constitution or the legislation on local self-government in Malta.

Second, the local councils are still not responsible for a “substantial share of public affairs” as required by Article 3 paragraph 1 of the Charter. The list of functions of local councils remains excessively limited contrary to the principle of subsidiarity.

The main reason behind this seems to be the total financial dependence of local councils on the central government that manifests itself in a wide range of forms.

Furthermore, there is also excessive involvement of the Central Government in the local affairs in practice and disproportional supervision powers of the central authorities.

Thus, we are much concerned about the excessive power of central government as regards the executive secretaries of local councils who seem to have an extremely important role in running and operation of the local councils.

The overall situation of local democracy in Malta is aggravated by the lack of formal consultation mechanisms between the central government and the local authorities.

Given the content of our findings, we have concluded that the current degree of compliance of Malta with the Charter needs to be increased and effective reforms to this end need to be implemented as soon as possible in order to improve drastically the level of local democracy in the country.

We, therefore, recommend to the Maltese authorities the following:

First, to amend the Maltese Constitution with a view of clearly defining and directly recognising the principle of local self-government.

Second, to extend the list of functions of local councils.

Third, to provide greater freedom and flexibility to local councils to manage their own financial affairs.

Furthermore, we urge Maltese authorities to review the current tight system of financial monitoring and supervision.

We call on the central government to ensure the freedom of local councils to select or remove their executive secretary without the approval by the central authorities.

We suggest setting up a formal consultation mechanism to ensure that in practice local authorities’ opinion and views are heard, prior to any decision which would affect them or their residents.

We hope that the Maltese authorities will introduce measures to encourage women’s access to local political office in respect of principle of gender equality.

Finally, we invite the Maltese authorities to consider adhering to the Additional Protocol to the Charter on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority.

I would like to conclude by sharing with you an important point that was raised during the consultation process with Maltese authorities and in discussions at the last Monitoring Committee meeting as relevant to other countries under monitoring.

During the process of consultation, we received critical comments from the ministry of Malta which did not share our conclusions.

This is why the consultation process is very relevant. And I must say that through actively participating in the consultations, the Maltese authorities showed their true involvement in the process. This is exactly what we expect from the monitoring exercise.

We were not able to accept all comments made by Maltese authorities. But maybe we could discuss the main challenges within the post-monitoring activities to pursue a political dialogue in order to improve local democracy in the country.

I would like to conclude by insisting once again on the fact that our aim is not to stigmatize a particular set of issues, but address matters of concern with relevant recommendations.

Such approach in the framework of a joint political dialogue will contribute to achieving by national authorities of our common goal – to safeguard and reinforce local self-government as our common European heritage.

The fact that we met Mr BUONTEMPO during the visit and his presence here today in itself show the political commitment of Malta to improve local democracy.

I hope you will adopt this draft recommendation and that the Maltese authorities will take it into account in their respective policies.

Thank you for your attention. I am ready to answer your questions.

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