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Ten years of Formentera Council, ten years of self-government

Foto debat estat de formentera 2017 2The Formentera Council convened its plenary members today for the first public discussion of the state of the island. The event included the participation of all parties with plenary representation in the Council. According to regulations, the yearly gathering must take place in the first six months of the year. President Jaume Ferrer, the first to take the floor, spoke about the general state of local affairs, reviewed the administration's recent efforts and outlined the overarching tenets that guide the Council's action in the tenth year since Formentera's local government was established.

In the words of President Ferrer, the ten years since the Council's creation have been marked by a return to self-governance: “Now any errors or miscalculations on sensitive local issues are, at the core, the result of decisions made by locally elected policymakers”. Having an island council, he went on, has increased the role played by local stakeholders. “It's not the same to be one of 67 Balearic municipalities as it is to be one of four island councils,” he pointed out.

Discussion on the state of the island
The president recalled how measures agreed on at last year's discussion had been given priority treatment during the previous year.

Eighteen accords from across the political parties were reached in 2016. Headway has been made on every one of the initiatives, Ferrer said, holding up two points as evidence: first, the administration now uses the Formentera Day Centre's conference room for plenary sessions, and second, a study and subsequent discussion took place concerning the Council's history on the island, another initiative first tabled at last year's gathering.

Community involvement
“Here on Formentera we are immensely lucky to have a society where people are involved in civic life,” the president observed. He cited the second round of “participatory budgets,” an initiative to enlist Formentera associations in the selection of projects that will receive funding from the administration. Twenty-eight proposals were heard and are currently being narrowed down. Ultimately, €325,000 will be made available to the projects that win the most support.

According to Ferrer, the months ahead will see the administration mapping out three important sector-specific directives, on waste management, youth, equality and mobility. For each, the Council will seek to engage the community via the island's league of associations, el Consell d'Entitats. On that note, he affirmed, local residents are also called upon to make decisions about changes at the town level. Recent meetings in la Savina have centred on dialoguing with residents about building works planned for that area and similar gatherings have been scheduled concerning improvements in Sant Ferran.

One issue received particular emphasis in the president's address: the local housing crunch. “We're working with the Govern Balear in every way possible,” he pledged, while noting that the Palma administration retains authority on issues of housing. “We've created the means for local residents to participate in a study of the current situation, a measure adopted at this same event last year,” he said. He also highlighted the upcoming rollout of new low-cost public housing rentals, flats built with sustainable materials and techniques on plots that were handed over by the Formentera Council.

The local government is also pouring resources into stemming rentals of available homes to tourists. Rules on tourist rentals, first, and inspections, second, have already begun to pay off, Ferrer remarked. The majority of the island is now aware that publicising the rental to tourists of one's home without the corresponding permits is illegal and will entail fines.

Two other matters Ferrer reckoned are instrumental to quality of life and dignity for all are an elderly care centre and a funeral home. Studies are currently under way to construct the buildings on land adjacent to the Formentera Day Centre and hospital.

According to the president, a senior care centre will mean that the realities of advanced age and failing health no longer require Formentera's aged to leave the island.

The funeral home, currently awaiting public tendering, will no doubt be a reality sooner. In Ferrer's words, the site, “a place to bid family, friends and neighbours farewell with intimacy and dignity,” represents a leap forward.

Ferrer also underscored the role of sport in cultivating not only healthy-living habits but also teamwork and camaraderie.

“Having launched the athletics school and a year into our promotion of positive values in sport,”—an initiative which, according to Ferrer, has served as a benchmark for a similar region-wide programme—“it's now time to turn our attention to the new windsurf school, which will begin classes this summer at the future site of la Savina's nautical sports centre”.

Sant Ferran, cultural centre
Proffering that “in the very near future, Sant Ferran will become the cultural epicentre of Formentera,” Ferrer signalled the need to relocate “the bulk of Formentera's cultural infrastructure and services to that town”.

With the remodel of Sant Ferran's primary school expected to be completed between late 2018 and early 2019, Ferrer intimated the school's current facilities could take on new life as “services and activities that lend themselves to culture, craft work, music and the performing arts”.

Defending the island
In his address the president said a renewed commitment would be made to beautify the island's rural areas and landscapes. “This year, the Formentera Council,” he announced, “we will once again be offering help to residents who repair stone walls, bury utility cables and revamp protected heritage sites like ranch homes, windmills, waterwheel, cisterns and wells”.

Looking ahead to summer, Ferrer drew attention to what he called the island's main challenge: “The abundance of watercraft seeking to drop anchor on Formentera's shore”. In this vein, the president highlighted an additional €200,000 in funding from the Govern, “instrumental to strengthening the island's moorage info service, which we hope this year will include the area from Cala Saona to Punta Prima and even Es Caló”.

Ferrer highlighted outreach and fundraising around the recently launched “Save Posidonia Project” and signalled a forthcoming campaign to raise awareness about a new toll-free hotline to report incidents like illegally dumped waste and malfunctioning streetlights.

President Ferrer pledged the Council would sustain its commitment to protecting the island's countryside. He highlighted a renewed plan with the local farmers' cooperative to maintain the farmland reserve and other initiatives.

Sustainable mobility
In addition, Ferrer reaffirmed the administration's commitment to green transport and pointed to a recently signed partnership with Citroën to promote the company's e-Méhari.

On islandwide mobility, the president assured attendees that the Council is in talks with the Govern on the issue of summer crowds and on the idea of imposing selective access across sites such as sa Tanca d'Allà Dins in es Cap de Barbaria.

Taking stock of the Council's ongoing building works, Ferrer affirmed that the current swath of large projects under the Council's watch are nearing termination. He also recalled efforts this winter to take the Formentera model to Iceland, Berlin, Madrid, London and other places whose residents would respond well to a unique, natural and tranquil environment like Formentera. As Ferrer noted, one issue that still awaits resolution concerns financing for local-level tourism promotion. In the region, Mallorca recently unveiled its Palau de Congressos, a multimillion-euro exhibition centre paid for by the entire Balearic Islands community, while funding still remains an issue. The current agreement, Ferrer asserted, is unfair and the administration will continue to call for an overhaul.

Punta Prima court case shelved
Lastly, the president spoke about Balearic courts' recent shelving of the Punta Prima case. Acknowledging that an appeal from the other side remained possible, Ferrer nevertheless pointed to the ruling's strong wording as evidence that Formentera had upheld the law. Representatives of the other parties debated the content of President Ferrer's address and the gathering concluded.

From the close of the evening and until tomorrow, parties can float propositions for further discussion. Such issues will be addressed, debated and voted on in a subsequent extraordinary discussion session. The second gathering will be held next Friday at 8.00am in the administration's plenary hall, located in the Formentera Day Centre.

High court shelves Punta Prima case, clears accused officials

April 7, in a provisional ruling on the 'Punta Prima case' by the Court of Justice of the Balearic Islands, the court's civil and criminal divisions cleared the defendants and moved to close the case. The court found that the facts did not constitute legal offence and dismissed any discredit to the defendants' characters.

The lawsuit filed February 1, 2012 by Sunway S.L. charged that in restricting the development approval of land in Punta Prima, the Gent per Formentera governing team composed of Jaume Ferrer, Sònia Cardona, Bartomeu Escandell, Josep Mayans and Sílvia Tur perverted the course of justice.

Bartomeu Escandell, vice-president and one of the defendants, expressed his satisfaction with the conclusion, for him confirmation that “we've always done our best to get things right and act in the best interests of the people of Formentera”.

Administration seeks to promote culture through Espai Frumentària pact

Foto signatura conveni espai frumentaria 2017Jaume Ferrer, president of the Formentera Council, and Miquel Costa, chief of Espai Frumentària, signed off on a deal to promote cultural initiatives in 2017.

Under the agreement, which is aimed at expanding the island's cultural cache, Espai Frumentària promises to coordinate events like “El 7 a les 6,” film screenings, concerts and exhibitions in addition to the theatre courses it also offers. For its part, the Council has pledged to provide €6,000 in funding for the measures.

Espai Frumentària was formed in 2013 and, according to its founding tenets, is committed to channeling dynamic energy into creation and the performing arts.

New submersible pump for Formentera fire crew

Bomba electrica submergibleThe president's office of the Formentera Council has reported today on the fire brigade's acquisition of a new electric submersible pump (ESP) with an extraction capacity of 1,600 litres per minute. The device cost €2,000.

The pump can be used in two ways: removing flood water or extracting it from the sea or other bodies of water for use fighting fires. ESPs, at approximately 20 kilograms, are easily transported.

The seven-member strong Formentera fire brigade has a fleet that includes two pickup trucks and two lorries.

Plenary endorses plan to expand protected undersea spaces

Foto ple marc 2017The Formentera Council held its March plenary session today, which featured a unanimous vote to create new protected marine areas to safeguard the future of traditional fishing on Formentera. Bartomeu Escandell, the CiF's vice-president, chair of the presidential cabinet and councillor of rural affairs, gave details.

According to Escandell, the Council's appeal, to the regional government and the national department of environment, turns on the creation of new protected areas—three in the inshore waters of punta de sa Creu and another two in the outer waters of sec des Ram and Baix Fondo. Escandell called it “an effort to defend biodiversity and the future of Formentera's fishing fleet”. Formentera relies heavily on traditional fishing and the boost it provides the island's gastronomic enterprises, which cater to residents and tourists alike, Escandell added.

Today's plenary motion came on the back of a technical report, commissioned by the Council, from the specialist company TRAGSATEC, and a green-light from Formentera's brotherhood of fishermen and the directorate general of fishing in the Balearics. Approval from the two entities covered both which swaths were to be included in the reserves and their proposed level of protection.

Rural renewal
Plenary members also unanimously adopted guidelines for collaboration between the Council and the island's cooperative of farmers. The measure is aimed at extending programmes to renew agriculture and reclaim landscapes through 2017.

The rural affairs councillor recalled the Council's programme, launched in 2015 and still active today, to revive Formentera's countryside. He pinned support for the farmers' cooperative and the farmland reserve initiative (“Cens de Terres” in Catalan) on a commitment to “reclaiming the farmable land that was abandoned with the restructuring of our local economic model”. Escandell described a two-pronged approach: first, revive primary industry and, second, beautify rural landscapes. The public initiative will receive €95,000 in 2017.

Investing in Ràdio Illa
Across-the-board support was also received by proposed regulatory underpinning for collaboration between the Council and ACAF, a local group promoting the audiovisual arts and culture. The measure also includes content production at Formentera's local public radio station, Ràdio Illa.

Escandell hailed the measure for “eliminating direct political influence by enlisting an outside association in the station's oversight”. In recent years Formentera's hometown station has gone through an important turnabout, casting off its status as an “amateur” outfit in favour of more professional features like paid, qualified staff. To further propel those changes as well as the social unity implicit in a strong public radio station, Formentera will increase ACAF's 2017 funding by €10,000, bringing it to €50,000.

Dry stone walls
The plenary also gave approval for a bid to qualify the traditional technique used to build dry stone walls as “intangible cultural heritage”. Heritage councillor Susana Labrador highlighted a simultaneous effort on the international front to gain similar acknowledgement from UNESCO. Besides requesting the distinction, which the other Balearic councils have also done, Labrador underscored other protective measures—“like this year's educational courses or funding for repairs”. The goal, she says, is to guarantee an enduring protection of Formentera's heritage.

Plenary members also received the resignation of Popular Party rep Gabriela Mayans. She will be replaced by the next person on the group's roster.

Official statements
The plenary gathering also served as the occasion for a reading of the administration's declaration on International Women's Day, March 8, 2017. In issuing the statement, the Formentera Council adds its voice to the call for a more egalitarian future. It acknowledges the fact that true equality cannot exist until gender violence is banished. The Council reaffirms its commitment to human rights, which, consequently, is a commitment to women's rights and equal opportunities for both sexes. The Council explicitly salutes all those who have worked to eradicate inequality till present and reiterates its firm determination to rout all that remains today.

“We must continue to press forward with policies promoting women at the workplace and female entrepreneurs, equal opportunities through education, women in IT and rural women. Local institutions must have the authority, the means and the resources to work alongside our institutions in Madrid and Palma to ensure correct application of equality and empowerment policies.

“This year marks the tenth since the Council's inception,” recalled social welfare and human resources councillor Vanessa Parellada, “in that time, social welfare has grown from a small office charged with basic services to a large department with authority at the municipal and island level”.

She held up the social work unit (“Unitat de Treball Social”) as the Office of Social Welfare's nerve centre, citing 352 interventions from the unit's primary care workers in 2016. Care for families made up the lion's share (97), followed by services for the elderly (70) and care for mental health patients (41). Staffers' work covers everything from counselling and orientation to help with benefits requests and referrals to specialised services. Twenty-seven new features have been added to the office's telephone service and 48 individuals and families have benefitted from at-home care. Sixty-one per cent of those beneficiaries are senior citizens and an especial prevalence of that work encompasses personal hygiene assistance.

The office delivers three kinds of benefits: emergency assistance (€11,810 spread across 40 dispersals), guaranteed minimum income and help in social inclusion and job placement (12 cases) and individual assistance dispersals (17).

The office's support of children and families includes grants such as tuition at early-learning centres (received by four households), school supplies and textbooks (eight), participation in sports (nine), summer school (nine).

Psychological assistance, another service of  the office, entails evaluating and facilitating individual and group therapy and was given in 16 cases.

Parellada described care for domestic violence victims as one of the office's most “delicate tasks”. Sixty percent of victims pressed charges against their attacker and restraining orders were issued in 14 cases. Twenty-one of 27 victims were referred directly from hospital or Guardia Civil services. The majority of women in those cases (12 out of 21) are mothers; typically their children are under 18 (16 our of 21) and, predominately, the woman continues to live with her attacker (13 out of 21). Women who are mistreated psychologically (or physically and psychologically) with an average age of 45 represent the prevailing archetype.

Parellada also spoke of the “consolidated” nature of her office's work on immigration. Their efforts, she said, focus on educating and orienting recent arrivals from beyond Europe's borders and promoting such individuals' equal access to public services, as well as their inclusion in the local community. In 2016 the office provided immigration-related assistance to roughly 470 individuals through 1,088 appointments and 166 newly opened cases.

On youth services, Parellada held up the fitness-oriented leisure programme «Formentera marxa» and outreach at local schools. A specialised company has been enlisted in the effort to turbocharge outreach to high school students. The firm's staffer continues to work with pupils in primary school on issues of socialising, emotional intelligence, decision-making and conflict resolution. Leisure activities are likewise organised afternoons from Thursday to Saturday in the Sant Ferran school courtyard.

Leisure in Sant Francesc is yoked to the town's youth centre, the Casal de Joves. Now in its tenth year, the Casal continues to offer a monthly activities programme for youth aged 10 to 26 (the majority of participants are between 14 and 17). Youth also take part in events promoted by other groups inside and outside the administration, like Festa Intercultural, International Women's Day and school days.

On human resources, the councillor described an initial period of growth followed by a run of consolidation that began one year ago and continues today. “With the benefit of hindsight,” said the councillor, “it would appear my hypothesis last year was absolutely correct”. The focus, she added, is on “working within our present legal framework to guarantee stability and high-quality work among the professionals that drive this administration”.

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