"I meet people with various problems and goals and I have to make an effort to understand all of them"
Francis Debono has been the Mayor of Marsa in Malta for 25 years and has seen the town change before his eyes.
- December 20, 2018 11:30
- Aseniya Dimitrova
On 18th of December, the International Migrants Day, we discussed with Mr Francis Debono, Mayor of Marsa, the challenges and opportunities before small localities on the island of Malta.
Mr Debono, to start with, how would you describe the locality of Marsa and why the visitors should come here?
Marsa is a small locality, with a population of 5000 persons. We have nearly 1000 foreigners from various states, most of them Africans or Syrians. There used to be an open centre in our locality that hosted over 1500 migrants after detention service, as we used to leave migrants for one year in detention and once free, they will be transferred to our locality, until they find a place to live. Some of them managed to rent places and this is why things are changing now in our locality. We have various cultures; most of them are not used to living here, but as the time passes, they will become better integrated with us.
And in terms of attractions, we have the two churches; one of them is 100 years old now and the other – 50 years old, in the centre. On the outskirts there is the Marsa sports complex, which once belonged to the British, when it was a British colony here.
Nowadays we are modernising our locality. We are also part of the inner port of the Gran harbour and in the near future there will be another attraction in Marsa – a carnival village. We are changing so fast and there is more to come soon.
What are the main achievements and initiatives completed since you assumed the post of the Mayor?
Well, I have been in office since 1994, I was the first mayor of my locality and this year I celebrate 25 years as a mayor. It has been a long time since I am a mayor and I have managed to change the locality in various aspects: public gardens, the building of the Council, we are creating a new open space for 100 people. You can see the changes everywhere in the locality.
Malta is investing enormously in environmental protection. In the locality of Marsa as well, few of the highest budget lines are dedicated to cleaning and waste management. Could you say a few words about the environmental issues, faced by your town and how they affect the residents?
As you know, our locality is part of the industry next to the harbour. As a consequence, one of the main problems was the Marsa Power Station, demolished in 2014. We are adjusting so that it will be transformed into a modern site. Let’s say a marine or financial services centre; we are looking forward to this.
The main problem thus is the power station nearby and we are looking up in the future to change the area and make a part of it public as an open space.
Moreover, what we have been doing since recently is the separation of the waste, including the organic waste. We have managed to do it, not too quickly, but we started only few months ago. For our residents it is sometimes not easy, but we acknowledge it now that it is a good direction.
Besides this, we are planting trees, thereby improving the greenery and sports in our small locality.
Information and communication technologies, such as life-streaming of council meetings are part and parcel of efficient communication between local representatives and voters. Could you say a bit more about the role of ICT and how do you and your administration use it to connect with voters?
We communicate with social media, like Facebook, among others. We communicate with radio stations, we have local radio stations, run by and NGO and even from times to times we do public meetings. Sometimes even we have to use telephone conversations, since most of our residents are ageing, thus it is easier to communicate by phone with them and send them flyers, inviting them down here for a get-together. You have to change ways every day, actually, because you have various people and you have to go door to door and speak to them. We have to reach everybody using different technologies.
And I assume you already know all your citizens and their problems in person, since you have been mayor for so long?
Absolutely. I think I know them very well, because even myself, I live in the locality. So when I go out from home, I meet people with various problems and goals and I have to make an effort to understand them.
So can you say that apart from new technologies, personal communication is essential, nowadays?
Besides new technologies you surely have to use face to face communication, in person. If you talk to the individual, face to face, it is much better. In such a small locality, you have to know each person, because you meet them near the church, at council meetings, at the feasts celebrations, at the grocery shop.
This is a good attitude. And what are the main projects the local administration is planning to complete in 2019?
We have the elections, on May 25th 2019. Besides that, our program and execution of budget start in January.
Another project is a small space for children, because our kids used to play football in the streets and now we are trying to introduce open spaces, but in a proper and safe place, like a football pitch, small playground. It will mean more security for the parents. This is our main goal for the months to come; and of course to continue to modernize and change street lighting, so as to use less energy and be more efficient. It is part of the job.
There is also a new project of the Marigold Foundation that has built a new complex for children with Autism and other special needs. Besides, in our locality there are three main schools (two private and one state school).
Apart from that there are various NGOs which organise the feasts in our locality and promote exhibitions on various arts and themes. And we have two main band clubs, which are Queen Mary Band Club and Holy Trinity Band Club.
Finally, how would you evaluate the necessity of a portal that brings together the best practices of European municipalities and aims to keep the citizens informed about the latest developments in local policies, such as TheMayor.eu? How can our platform be useful to your administration?
It will be a beneficial opportunity for everybody interested in visiting the town. The information we provide will be made more visible on a website like yours. It will be used positively. Because, sometimes what is happening in other towns in Europe, when they see on social media some wrongdoing by migrants or even other foreigners, they get a wrong image. This way, we could manage to send a positive message on social media, so it will be useful.
Find more about Marsa here.