Monday, 20 September 2010

Times: Politicking in Lilliput [Sliema Local Council]

Monday, 20th September 2010 by Helena Dalli

With wearisome inevi tability we are assisting to the ump teenth local council drama. Sliema’s Cyrus Engerer (love the name) is claiming that the Labour councillors and others on his side of the political divide have no confidence in him because he is gay... “they are targeting me because I’m gay,” he reportedly declared. Mr Engerer went on to say he is proud to belong to a party “that accepts diversity and does not discriminate, when it comes to its membership and candidacy in elections, on the basis of sexual orientation”.

Why, pray, would Mr Engerer be “targeted” because he’s gay? And by Labour councillors? I don’t think so.

Mr Engerer must know which is the progressive party and that it was a Labour government that decriminalised sodomy. This was in the 1970s, when being gay was considered a matter of shame by many and the word pufta was used liberally and meant as an insult to homosexuals and others. But, then, they wouldn’t teach these things in the one-year Masters degree course in political science at the College of Europe in Bruges, would they? Although they do teach students the necessary skills to research a “fact” before making claims, as opposed to relying on gut feeling.

It seems that Mr Engerer wants blood, Labour blood. Or so was the order from his political masters. This, when a motion against him was initiated by a PN councillor, Edward Cuschieri. So, having nothing in his political wardrobe that passes for principle it seems, he has turned to this playing the victim on account of his sexual orientation.

Gay MPs and councillors – like the rest of us – have come and gone over the years. I don’t know that they encountered difficulties because of their sexuality. They had no problem getting elected – which means the electorate has no qualms about being represented by a gay person - and no trouble with carrying out their parliamentary and council duties.

It is in this light that I see Mr Engerer’s public declarations as another symptom of the confusion reigning within the Nationalist Party. First, it was reported that the PN secretary-general ordered councillor Sandra Camilleri to sign a vote of no confidence in the mayor, against her will – isn’t that illegal? And now, Mr Engerer impudently states that he is a victim of his sexuality. Give us a break.

Furthermore, Mr Engerer keeps reminding us, selectively, that he got more votes than his PN colleague Mr Cuschieri. No word though about another fact: That Labour’s Martin de Bono got around double Mr Engerer’s amount of first-count votes and many more of the same than new mayor Joanna Gonzi.

Sliema’s is not the only council in turmoil, of course.

Those in charge – the government spokesman and his counterpart – talk of how they spend most of their days listening to endless lists of councils’ problems, among them petty squabbles, not least those stemming from party politics.

It’s pointless at this stage and nothing will be gained by saying “you were told so” with regard to the party politicisation of local councils. But one cannot deny that the day-to-day political altercations between councillors are definitely a throwback to their work, to the detriment of residents.

The national party political polarisation has trickled down to the local level in a big way. It is true that a person is good or bad, competent or incompetent, regardless of whether he or she is an independent councillor or representing a political party. But when push comes to party shove, a councillor is obliged to act in the interest of the party above everything else or resign and stay on as an independent councillor. So why not be independent in the first place? It doesn’t make sense to play party politics in councils of towns and villages populated by a few thousand people. One has to keep in perspective the fact that ours is a minuscule country, where we breathe politics and many things, from our cell phone contract to the radio station we tune in to, points towards our political sympathies. Then, as if division along party political lines is not ubiquitous enough, we must also bear its consequences, through the operation of some councils, when it comes to the cleaning of our localities, the minor roadworks and other stuff that local councils are responsible for.

On the other hand, the predicaments of local councils come in handy for the PN. They provide a good cover-up. They help to instil the perception that the government takes action and demands the resignation of wrongdoers. Pity that kind of action is uniquely reserved for the realm of local councils.

If only the government had the same attitude at the national level where millions of taxpayers’ euros are shelled out for obscure contracts.

No minister was ever asked to resign and it’s not because we were short of cases of transgression, such as that of the recent power station extension contract, for instance. But, to crib the title of Julie Walters’ funny autobiography, that’s another story.

Dr Dalli is shadow minister for the public service and government investment.

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