Get to know your candidates: Marsaskala Local Council Elections 2019

A little bit of perspective…
Did you know that voter turnout for local council (LC) elections in Marsaskala has ranged between a low of 56% in 1997 and a high of 84.9% in 2003? The last LC elections, held in 2013, saw almost 80% of MSK’s 9,371 registered residents turn out to vote. On Saturday the 25th May 2019, thousands of Skalin will once again make their way to the local Primary School to exercise their right to vote for their favourite LC candidates.

Local elections are often dismissed as being “irrelevant” elections with little at stake. This is not helped by the perception that local councils have relatively little power, or when it becomes apparent that many LCs are effectively dominated by the same political party, year after year. Turnout can often be low, although holding LC elections alongside European elections probably guarantees that this won’t happen in 2019.

Marsaskala Voter turnout, 1994 – 2013

Why Bother Voting?
In our increasingly materialistic and individualistic world, duty and service are unpopular words. But little in public life would get done without them. People should be proud of where they live and take an interest in their community. Elections provide voters with a choice of competing candidates, platforms, and parties. They provide a mechanism for holding representatives to account for their performance in office and allow residents a degree of control over their elected representatives. If you don’t like what they are doing, don’t just stay at home, get out there and vote for a candidate who may do a better job.
In Malta, people may know their councillor personally, and despite all its harms, social media has proven to be a boon when it comes to putting residents in direct contact with their elected representatives. Political parties care about who controls local councils: this is why they spend time and money standing for election to them. Holding them accountable for their performance is vital, as the control and leadership of a council can lead to very different public policies being pursued. Think about what is happening elsewhere on our islands – LCs in towns and villages across Malta and Gozo – from Żejtun to Pembroke to Gżira have been instrumental in helping to defend towns and villages from rampant overdevelopment and destruction of the natural environment; in mitigating negative effects of poor planning and policy; in the provision of services, the organization of cultural events, the embellishment of village cores etc. In Marsaskala, the track record is rather mixed. Without going into too much detail about who voted for what, the council has at various times asked for a holistic plan to curb overdevelopment in our village, fought to prevent restaurants from taking up valuable parking spaces, opposed an ODZ petrol station extension, objected to ODZ greenhouses in Munxar, came out against a car park proposed in St. Anne’s Garden and insisted that the abandoned Jerma Hotel be demolished…. yet a majority of councillors voted in favour of building new offices within a public open space in St. Anne’s Garden (a move opposed by many residents as it will remove precious open space in the centre of the village), voted against a motion asking the government to give back Żonqor land to the public (instead voting in favour of the infamous AUM project), removed a cycle lane in Triq is-Salini… there’s quite a lot going on in Marsaskala!

It’s just one vote…what difference will I make?
Councils respond to policy demands expressed during elections. Public pressure matters, and voting in elections is a key part of that. Local elections also provide voters with a chance to pursue change. Fed up with how one party runs the council? Then vote for something different. Unfortunately, voting in Malta has always been along party lines, but we’re hopeful that there will be an independent candidate or two running for the Marsaskala LC election. Failing that, we look foward to seeing a healthy mix of fresh and experienced, young and old, female and male councillors from all parties. More detailed information on the results of past elections can be found here.

Where does Marsaskala Community & Friends come in?
Following our last blog post on how to register to vote, we believe that all Skalin should be able to make an informed decision about their preferred candidates. With this in mind, over the coming weeks each candidate, from all parties, will be sent the same list of questions related to their vision for Marsaskala. The final list of candidates will be available on the 15th April, but in the meantime we will be sending this list of 18 questions to those candidates who have already come forward. Some questions are generic. Others are hot topics. All are important, because they help residents hold their representatives accountable, now and in the future. They are designed to lead to candid, straightforward answers as much as possible, rather than politikspeak. Candidates will be asked the following:

Development

  1. What is your stance on the Jerma proposal as it currently stands? Should the LC be asked to vote on this in the future, how would you vote if the residential apartments remain part of the proposal?
  2. What are your thoughts on the takeup of public land to build the Żonqor branch of the AUM? If you had to vote again in the future, would you be in favour of, or against the irreversible destruction of that area of Żonqor?
  3. What are your thoughts about excessive development in general in Marsaskala? Our infrastructure is struggling to cope – how will you ensure that Marsaskala remains a residential village for families, as opposed to becoming another Sliema?
  4. What is your opinion on the preservation and creation of public open spaces in Marsaskala? What do you think about the building of new LC premises in Ġnien Sant’ Anna in the face of residents’ opposition?
  5. What is your stance on the construction of an ODZ petrol station just opposite the Family Park?
  6. What is your vision for the Sant’Antnin recycling plant once it it phased out? What would you wish to have instead of it?
  7. Noise disturbance is an increasingly problematic issue. Would you consider fining contractors who disobey basic rules like working outside permitted hours?
  8. How will your service as a councillor improve the health of residents?
  9. Parking is increasingly a problem, yet measures to promote active means of transport such as cycling have thus far been actively discouraged (e.g. removal of the cycle lane along Triq is-Salini). Will you actively encourage cycling and walking in Marsaskala? How?

Environment and litter

  1. Do you think there is a problem with rubbish and dog litter in Marsaskala? What do you plan to do about it?
  2. Will you be willing to speak to restaurant owners and require a bin outside their premises?
  3. What effective enforcement strategies would you put in place for those who do not follow rules?

Citizen Involvement

  1. Currently, groups of residents are only allowed to speak at local council meetings once a year. Will you consider the possibility of engaging more publicly with groups of citizens during local council meetings once in office? How would you do this?
  2. Will you make an effort to regularly notify citizens of important council matters via the (thus far) rarely updated website, offical FaceBook page, and any other means?

Generic

  1. Give me one good reason why you deserve the vote and the trust of the residents of Marsaskala
  2. If you were granted three personal wishes for Marsaskala – no limits, everything is possible. What would those wishes be? What is your vision for Marsaskala?
  3. What result do you want to achieve, if elected for the coming five years for Marsaskala residents?
  4. What can we hold you accountable for?

One last thing…
Getting out to vote shows an appreciation of what representatives do – which is mostly unpaid and on our behalf. It confers legitimacy on the local council and shows how much residents care about what goes on in their local area. Voting can be habit forming. It can also make a difference. Be that difference.