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Councils must lead by example

Just over a month after a representative of a region within the Local Councils’ Association called for greater powers to be given to local councils to enforce health and safety regulations at construction sites, this newspaper reported that most of the local councils’ offices have been found in breach of occupational and healthy safety rules.

This would be laughable were the subject matter not of a serious nature. How could any council found in breach of safety rules even possibly think of being remotely capable of enforcing those same regulations in an industry that includes elements the Malta Developers’ Association itself defines as “cowboys”?

Yet, many may find such illogical presumption on the part of councils understandable given the rampant maladministration and lack of good governance that characterise much of the work of this administration. In other words, their attitude is symptomatic of the way things are being done today. Laws and regulations look fine on paper and the country may qualify as being the best in the European Union or even the world in this and that but, hard on the ground, experience tells a different story.

The surplus in the government’s finances does not cover the tales of inefficiency or lawlessness that people come face to face with in their daily lives in their dealings with authorities and even with private entities infected by the current indifference shown to proper administration.

Local councils have often been the target of criticism in audit reports for shortcomings in their normal day-to-day work but the news about their disregard for health and safety in their own offices takes the biscuit. According to the annual report of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority for last year, all but six of the 68 councils have been fined or are facing judicial action after their offices were found to be in breach of occupational health and safety laws.

Being found to be on the wrong side of the law as regards safety is bad enough but even more annoying is that only 20 of the councils found in breach have paid the fine.

Their default is doubly serious as councils ought to set an example in the communities they are meant to serve. Instead, they confirm – and conform to – the current ‘anything goes’ mentality that is doing so much harm in practically all spheres of activity.

Councils that have failed to abide by the safety rules and which have also, to boot, held back from paying the fine, ought to be named and shamed.

As to the request for councils to be given powers to enforce health and safety regulations at construction sites, this was made by the president of the central region within the Local Councils’ Association. The government has apparently turned down its request on grounds that such work is the remit of the authority.

Few would have minded the councils doing such enforcement work had they shown themselves to be the epitome of efficiency and given enough examples of good administration but, regrettably, quite a number of them do not measure up to expectations. Still, the sheer indifference shown to health safety ought not to obscure the good work they do.

However, as guardians, councils would need to be careful not to fall foul of rules and regulations.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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