Open mouth, insert foot.
That’s my instinctive reaction every time Simon Busuttil comes out with yet another odd, if not bizarre statement. His latest oeuvre is to compare the postponement of our local council elections with China’s decision to impose which candidates are to run as Hong Kong’s next leader in the 2017 elections.
The problem with this far-fetched analogy is that the two issues are so far removed from one another (and the comparison so tenuous) that it has rendered the very idea absurd. Let us try a simple compare and contrast exercise:
Exhibit A: Tens of thousands of residents of Hong Kong (many of them students) have been vociferously protesting China’s undemocratic decision in huge protests which continue to grow in momentum every day. In fact, the most vocal of the activists, who is leading a pro-democracy youth movement, is a 17-year-old student.
Exhibit B: Have you seen anyone chaining themselves to Castille demanding that Muscat should allow local council elections to take place? (This is not to say I agree with his decision, because it is patently wrong). But the point is, has anyone else noticed that there has been hardly a peep out of voters, let alone passionate students ready to fight for their right to vote at 16, as had been so flamboyantly promised?
Exhibit A: With over 7 million people residing in Hong Kong, getting to decide who represents them is an obvious crucial issue which will affect their lives. There is a real threat to democracy at stake here and these protests are simply the manifestation of pent-up frustrations since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
Exhibit B: The consistently low turnout for local council elections is the real indicator of just how indifferent voters have become to this concept. What began as a great idea to encourage civic pride and effective micro management of one’s town or village has just created more petty little empires with newbie politicians using their council as a stepping stone for their lofty ambitions on a national scale. Residents elect councillors into office only to end up feeling terribly let down by them when the problems of their town/village remain unsolved and stupid decisions are shrugged off as having been made by central government. The constant finger-pointing as to who is responsible for traffic management/roadworks/collection of rubbish and separation of waste has further exasperated and frustrated residents who have become increasingly furious with their council. Internal partisan squabbles within the councils plus several episodes where corruption and fiddling of funds were exposed, have continued to erode people’s faith in the whole thing. Then there are the high-handed, arrogant decisions taken, such as to arbitrarily change the name of a street irrespective of the wishes of those who live there, and you eventually stop wondering why people don’t give a crap about local councils.
While on paper they do affect the minutiae of our day-to-day lives, the fact remains that (apart from a few exceptions) most councils have made such a mess of it (or are simply so irrelevant), we might as well go back to having everything run by central government anyway. There seem to be enough people employed within the over-bloated civil service to be able to handle and it would save us a lot of running around instead of being shuttled back and forth between the council and the respective government departments. And, as one person pointed out to me, once elected, councillors and mayors suddenly vanish from their constant barrage on Facebook and end up being as hard to get hold of as an elusive, slippery as an eel, government Minister who promptly forgets his groveling door-to-door canvassing for people’s votes once he settles his backside in his ministerial chair.
Local councils were meant to make our lives simpler, to streamline local decisions and make us feel part of a proud community – has that actually happened? You tell me. When palpable anger turns to utter apathy and people don’t even make an effort to go out and vote that means they have disassociated themselves from the whole process. Others simply use the council elections as a protest vote against the government of the day. Either way the raison d’être has been lost.
So remind me: what was the point of having local councils again?