Sub­sidiar­ity in the Con­sti­tu­tion

On Fri­day, a del­e­ga­tion from Al­ter­nat­tiva Demokratika met Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Sil­vio Par­nis to dis­cuss the White Pa­per pub­lished by the gov­ern­ment con­cern­ing the re­form of lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

An ar­chi­tect and civil en­gi­neer, the au­thor is Chair­man of Al­ter­nat­tiva Demokratika -The Green Party in Malta. carmel.ca­co­[email protected]­ter­nat­tiva.org.mt, http://carmel­ca­co­pardo.wordpress.com

Dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, we handed Mr Sil­vio Par­nis our re­sponse to the White Pa­per, a re­sponse that con­tains eight pro­pos­als – the cen­tral one fo­cus­ing on the need to ac­cept and im­ple­ment the prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity. The prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity needs to be con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­trenched in or­der to serve as a guid­ing light to the coun­try’s pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion and, con­se­quently, pro­tect lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ment.

The Euro­pean treaties have al­ready en­trenched the prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity as a ba­sic tenet, reg­u­lat­ing the com­plex re­la­tion­ship be­tween Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions and EU mem­ber states.

The prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity, mostly de­vel­oped in the so-called Ger­manic states in Europe – namely Ger­many, Aus­tria and Switzer­land – have a ro­bust lo­cal and re­gional ar­range­ment, as a re­sult of which re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the cor­re­spond­ing author­ity is spread.

Pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion should be as close to the cit­i­zen as pos­si­ble: those ad­min­is­ter­ing and mak­ing de­ci­sions should be as close as pos­si­ble to those who feel the im­pact of such de­ci­sions. De­par­tures from this ba­sic rule should only oc­cur for reasons of ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity. For­mer Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Jac­ques Delors is quoted as hav­ing stated that sub­sidiar­ity is not only a limit on the in­ter­ven­tion of a higher author­ity in the af­fairs of a per­son or com­mu­nity that can act it­self, it is also a duty of this author­ity to act in re­la­tion to that per­son or com­mu­nity in such a way as to give it the means to ful­fil it­self.

This brings to the fore two as­pects of sub­sidiar­ity. Firstly, that of non-in­ter­fer­ence by the higher author­ity in the work­ings of the lower author­ity, ex­cept in ex­cep­tional cases and, se­condly, the duty to help – that is help that en­cour­ages au­ton­omy.

Al­ter­nat­tiva Demokratika is propos­ing that the prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity be ac­cepted as a guid­ing con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ple for the pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion as a first step to­wards im­ple­ment­ing another rad­i­cal pro­posal: the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of the op­er­a­tional func­tions of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion to the re­gions and lo­cal au- thor­i­ties, with the gov­ern­ment re­tain­ing the reg­u­la­tory func­tions. This can be eas­ily car­ried out on the Gozo model, although with a re­gional elected politi­cian re­plac­ing the cur­rent na­tional politi­cian in charge.

The doc­u­ment pub­lished by Al­ter­nat­tiva Demokratika deals with var­i­ous other mat­ters cur­rently be­ing de­bated as part of the pro­posed lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ment re­form.

The ser­vice of all elected lo­cal coun­cil­lors should be ap­pre­ci­ated, not just the ser­vice ren­dered by the Mayor! The pro­posal to trans­form the of­fice of Mayor in our lo­cal­i­ties into a full-time role is un­called for and a num­ber of reasons come to mind. It would au­to­mat­i­cally ex­clude all those who can­not take a sab­bat­i­cal from their em­ploy­ment as this would have a long-term neg­a­tive ef­fect on their abil­ity to ad­e­quately rein­te­grate when their may­oral term of of­fice comes to an end. It would also cre­ate un­nec­es­sary con­flict with the Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary, cur­rently de­fined by the Lo­cal Coun­cil leg­is­la­tion as the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Lo­cal Coun­cils.

In­stead of sin­gling out the Mayor, the lo­cal coun­cil re­form should en­cour­age a more col­le­gial lead­er­ship, with all coun­cil­lors be­ing more ac­tively in­volved in the run­ning of the lo­cal­i­ties. The pro­posal in the White Pa­per to cod­ify the duty to as­sign re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to each elected coun­cil­lor – a pro­posal first made by Al­ter­nat­tiva Demokratika and high­lighted dur­ing the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion of 2008 on lo­cal coun­cil re­form, is a good first step. It has to be fol­lowed by en­sur­ing that all coun­cil­lors re­ceive a rea­son­able hon­o­rar­ium: this should not be re­served for the Mayor alone.

The prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity should also be ap­plied to reg­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues closer to base. In­volv­ing re­gional and lo­cal coun­cils in these de­ci­sions could lead to much bet­ter de­ci­sions than those we cur­rently face. But more about that next time.

The pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion has now been con­cluded. We await the re­ac­tion of the gov­ern­ment to the large num­ber of pro­pos­als made. Hope­fully, these pro­pos­als will be se­ri­ously con­sid­ered.

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