Malta’s emeritus bishops yesterday said they had opposed the involvement of political parties in local councils back in 1993 because they “understood human nature”.

When asked if he felt vindicated by the bishops’ stand in light of the political storms involving councils, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mercieca said, however, there was no satisfaction to be gained from unpleasant situations.

His comments come 17 years after the bishops issued a warning saying there was no place for party politics in local councils.

“We could not know what was coming but we understood human nature and that is what led us to make that statement,” Mgr Mercieca said.

The foreboding message was issued by Mgr Mercieca and then Gozo Bishop Nikol Cauchi in 1993 when the first council elections took place.

The bishops had welcomed the creation of councils but warned that partisan politics could prevent people who had a lot to offer the community from contesting local elections.

Their statement had irked then Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, who expressed his hurt and incredulity in a letter he wrote the bishops.

Looking back at how events unfolded since then, Mgr Cauchi still believes the statement was correct; however, he admits Dr Fenech Adami’s approach may have been more practical.

“We were too idealistic in our position but I still believe that was the best option because councillors would have been able to take decisions for the locality’s best interest without the party pulling any strings.

“In theory we were correct but given that nothing in Malta and Gozo happens without the political parties having a hand in the matter, Dr Fenech Adami was right,” Mgr Cauchi said when contacted.

He said the current state of affairs was unfortunate and insisted the parties should feel they have a duty to allow councillors leeway in decisions affecting their localities.

“If the parties have an issue with each other they should deal with it themselves and not involve the councils,” Mgr Cauchi said.

When councils were established in 1993, the Labour Party was opposed to political party participation and did not field any candidates.

Nationalist Party and Alternattiva Demokratika candidates had to compete with lists of independent candidates; abreed that practically disappeared after the Labour Party changed its position some years later.

The recent turmoil facing councils has rekindled the debate, at least in some quarters, about the participation of political parties in councils.

Writing in The Times last Monday, former Labour minister Lino Spiteri argued that councillors under a tight rein of their party were “an obstacle in the way to effective development of local government”.

While stopping short of saying that parties should not field candidates, he said councils had some positives to offer if they were properly run and if the parties “kept at least a certain distance from them”.

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