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.

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 – which states 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. Departure 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 to implementing another radical proposal: the decentralisation of the operational functions of public administration to the regions and local authorities with 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 that 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 it 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 a 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.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 December 2018

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