Some months ago, Local Councils Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Buontempo said that the warden system had become a ‘ticket-issuing machine’ which required change.

In his words, government’s reform in the sector “will transform wardens from Gestapo officers hiding behind trees ready to suck the money out of citizens’ pockets into friends of our community”. Consequently the new system would be credible, sustainable and would take on a more civil and educational role.

Through the new system, a government agency will regulate the sector and will procure warden services from private operators at a fixed price.

Will this reform produce a better enforcement system?

I for one am not convinced that a centralised agency under the control of central government is the best way forward. True, such an agency may benefit from economies of scale, but on the other hand it may add another layer of bureaucracy to a system which is already characterised by too much red tape and too little transparency and effective results.

Perhaps it would have been better to have a system which gives more power to local councils, which, after all, are more in touch with their localities’ immediate needs.

Questions have also been raised on the method of appointment of the head of the new government agency. It is a political one on the basis of trust, and not on merit through an open, public call for applications.

I do acknowledge that certain positions within the public sector require persons of trust. But I fail to see how the head of an enforcement agency should be handpicked by the respective minister (or prime minister).

Consequently, will the head be loyal to the political whims of his political masters? Will this result in uneven enforcement, for example when elections are approaching?

Notwithstanding the issues I mentioned above, I wish to refer to certain matters which I hope will be tackled by the new agency.

Such a centralised agency may benefit from economies of scale, but on the other hand it may add another layer of bureaucracy

First, I hope that wardens take action against heavy polluters. These include many old cars, certain delivery vans, certain minibuses and coaches, a good deal of construction trucks and other vehicles. They are not only producing pollution levels which should not be tolerated in any self-respecting society but, in the case of commercial vehicles, they are a source of unfair competition to others. For example, in the waste collection sector, some companies are using new trucks which produce minimal pollution, whilst others are using trucks which are only fit for scrapping.

Second, wardens should enforce on bus lanes. I recently learned that only 12 tickets were issued on the Sliema-Gzira one. Is this right, when cowboy drivers frequently swerve into the bus lane at high speed, to the danger of pedestrians and to the frustration of other drivers who follow regulations?

Third, wardens should take immediate action against construction trucks blocking roads without a local council permit, cars parked abusively on pavements, public spaces and other areas for a length of time. I do agree that at times drivers have no choice but to park temporarily in non-parking spaces in the case of deliveries, transportation of kids or elderly persons, and so forth, but this is a far cry from those who permanently park their cars in public areas such as disability ramps and beaches.

In this regard, it is imperative that wardens operate around the clock. As things stand, it is more likely to see wardens operating during office hours, but everyone knows that enforcement is required at all times of the day, including weekends, when local council offices are closed.

Finally, Malta’s enforcement system should make more use of green wardens. Currently, they are too costly for cash-stripped local councils, and hence their deployment is minimal. No wonder that dog pooh, rubbish bags and other unsightly waste feature prominently in various parts of the country.

I agree with Buontempo that wardens have an important educational role. This can help increase a sense of civic pride and respect. But I also wish to remind him that when front seatbelt legislation was introduced, it was the fining system which made it work. The same cannot be said for seatbelts at rear seats.

Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.

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