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Local government in Malta
By Jimmy Magro

6 June 2008: Malta is a Republic, whose parliamentary system and public administration is closely modeled on the Westminster system.  For sure, there is one good thing about local government in Malta:  local councils, as they are known by our legislation and the masses, cannot raise taxes and this is part of the Local Councils Act 1993.  Malta began with 67 local councils and this was increased to 69 a few years alter.

System of government
The unicameral House of Representatives is elected by direct universal suffrage through single transferable vote every five years, unless the House is dissolved earlier by the President on advice of the Prime Minister. The House of Representatives is made up of sixty-five Members of Parliament. However, where a party wins an absolute majority of votes, but does not have a majority of seats, that party is given additional seats to ensure a parliamentary majority. The Constitution of Malta provides that the President appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House who is best able to command a (governing) majority in the House. 

The President of the Republic is elected every five years by the House of Representatives. The role of the president as head of state is largely ceremonial. 

The main political parties are the Nationalist Party, which is a Christian democratic party, and the Malta Labour Party, which is a social democratic party.  There are a number of smaller political parties in Malta that presently have no parliamentary representation.  Malta and Gozo are divided into 13 electoral districts.  Five Members of Parliament are elected from each district.  The Constitution has seen several changes in order to ensure strict proportionality between the number of first count votes and the number of parliamentary seats gained by any political party.  Another measure to avoid disproportionality was included in the Constitution whereby electoral districts cannot exceed +/- 5percent from the national average of the number of votes in each electoral district. 

Local government 
Local government was established in 1993 following Parliament’s approval, in June 1993, of the Local Councils Act, 1993 (Act No. XV of 1993). This law made it possible for local councils to be set up. Furthermore, it presently serves as a regulatory mechanism for the councils` operation.

 The Local Councils Act was modeled on the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which the Maltese Government had signed and ratified. According to this Act, "The Council shall be a statutory local government authority having a distinct legal personality and capable of entering into contracts, of suing and being sued, and of doing all such things and entering into such transactions as are incidental or conducive to the exercise and performance of its functions as are allowed under the Act."

Today, Malta has 68 Local Councils - 54 in Malta, the mainland; 14 in Gozo, the sister island. In December 1999, the Local Councils Act was revised considerably and Act No. XXI (1999), the Local Councils (Amendment) Act 1999, was published.

Another important step taken to consolidate local government in Malta was when the system of local government was entrenched in the Constitution of Malta. In fact, in April 2001, Act No. XIII of 2001 established that: "The State shall adopt a system of local government whereby the territory of Malta shall be divided into such number of localities as may by law be from time to time determined, each locality to be administered by a Local Council elected by the residents of the locality and established and operating in terms of such law as may from time to time be in force." 

Local Councils Association 
The Local Councils Association was established in 1994 through the issue of specific Regulations entitled: Local Councils (Association) Regulations, 1994. From time to time, these Regulations were amended and enhanced.

 The Regulations state that: "There shall be a Local Councils Association representing all the Local Councils with the aim of protecting and promoting the common interests of all the Local Councils and to represent, solely for the purposes of these regulations, all Local Councils in Malta and overseas, and on international associations of local government authorities."  
 
The Association is a juridical body having a distinct legal personality.

Constitution and election process
The Association is composed of six councillors forming an Executive Committee and they are assisted administratively by a full-time Executive Secretary of the Association, who is a public officer.  
 
The six members of the Executive Committee are elected upon the principle of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, and an election takes place every two years, and all Councilors in office can be nominated to contest as candidates in the election of the Executive Committee. Once elected, Committee members are obliged to attend all meetings of the Committee. The Electoral Commission is responsible for the Local Councils Association election process.  

Twinning
The idea of town twinning was born about 50 years ago, when the peoples of Europe realised the need for mutual reconciliation and cooperation between neighbours. The first contacts were essentially exchanges of experiences in the area of local life. Today, town twinning has grown into a movement linking municipalities in several European countries to a dense and organised network of towns, cities, villages and citizens.

In Malta, with the establishment of Local Councils the idea of town-twinning was introduced through local government legislation in 1994.

According to the Local Councils Act, local councils have the right to make twinning arrangements with any city, town, village or other locality in any other country, provided that any twinning between a city, town or village and another locality in any other country shall require the approval of the Minister responsible for Local Government. Prior to this approval, the Local Councils Association is requested to give its opinion on the particular twinning proposal.  
 
In establishing twinning of localities, considerations are normally given to the status of the localities in the other country with which twinning is being proposed, and such that a capital or a former capital city of Malta shall only be twinned with a capital or a former capital of another country, and a city shall, as far as possible, only be twinned with another city. 

Currently there are around 40 twinning agreements between Maltese local councils and local governments from other countries around the world. 

Devolution 
As from their conception, the Government of Malta adopted a policy of devolution of power and responsibilities to local authorities. In the beginning the first functions to be devolved included the provision of collection and removal of all refuse from any public or private place; the maintenance of cleanliness and for the establishment of dustbins and other receptacles for the temporary deposit and collection of waste. Local councils were also given the responsibility for the making of any changes in traffic schemes directly affecting the locality in consultation with the competent authority and also planning or building schemes in consultation with the competent authorities. The naming or renaming of streets was also a responsibility devolved to our local authorities.  

Local councils were also responsible to give advice and be consulted by relevant authorities on decisions affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for.  

In 1995, local councils had new responsibilities. These included the provision of the upkeep and maintenance of any street or footpath not being privately owned, including the patching or resurfacing thereof, but does not include its reconstruction and the provision of the establishment, upkeep and maintenance of children’s playgrounds, public gardens and sport, cultural or other leisure centers. Local councils also had to work on the provision of, and the maintenance of proper road signs and road markings, in conformity with national and international standards, to establish and maintain pedestrian and parking areas and to provide for the protection of school children in the vicinity of schools. 

During the years local councils were entrusted with more responsibilities, including the assistance to citizens by providing, in conjunction with any competent authority, information relating to the rights of citizens in general, including information on consumers` rights, transport, communications, tourist facilities, taxation, social security, public health and other matters of public utility and interest; the establishment, upkeep and maintenance of crèches, kindergartens and other educational services or buildings; in conjunction with any competent authority, the establishment, upkeep and maintenance of health and rehabilitation centres, government dispensaries, health district offices and homes for senior citizens. 

Along the years the following functions or initiatives were introduced: 

In January 1999, an agreement was signed with the Water Services Corporation. This controlled the way re-instatement was performed (by local councils) after Trenching works were carried out.  

The administration of Regional and Local Libraries by councils was introduced in March 1999. The following councils have signed the relative Agreement with the competent authority. 

This was accompanied with the Devolution of Public Property Administration (by councils).  

The Local (Wardens) Enforcement System was introduced in February 2000 and was applied by most councils in Malta and Gozo, while the Devolution of Sports Facilities Administration by Councils was initiated in November 2000. 

In November 2000 the Collection of Government Property Rents through local councils was established, while in April 2001 the Local Councils Association entered into an agreement, on behalf of councils, for the provision, erection and maintenance of standard bus shelters in Malta’s localities. 

Local councils in Malta are also responsible for the maintenance of street lighting, and for the issue of temporary trading licences.  

The functions of local councils are outlined in the Local Councils Act (Chapter 363, Laws of Malta) specifically in Section 33 of the same Act.


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