Local Government 1773 – 1993

During the last years of the reign of the Knights – 1773-1798


  • There were three municipal authorities with members nominated directly by the Grand Master: Universita’ of Citta’ Notabile, Universita’ of Valletta and the Three Cities and the Universita’ of Gozo;
  • The Municipality of Notabile had four officers (Giurati) and several members and was responsible for items of national importance;
  • Municapality of Valletta had the same constitution as above but was also responsible for the provision of grain – ‘Massa Frumentaria;
  • The Municaplity of Gozo performed the same duties as its counterparts;
  • These covered only a section of the Islands;
  • Grand Master Ximenes reformed local authorities in the rest of the towns and villages;
  • The rest of the country was divided into nine districts with three officials in each;
  • The Mayor in each district was also a judge in emergencies;

In 1784, the Codice de Rohan (Code of laws by Grand Master de Rohan) was published in Malta, and included a new compilation of the laws of Malta. In this code, there is a chapter made up of eleven paragraphs which is entirely dedicated to the duties of the Mayors, Jurors and Kattapani of the villages. Obviously, in other sections of the mentioned Code, such as, those concerning vagabonds and prohibited weapons, these officials are mentioned again.

One has to point out that the Order of the Knights had not revised its Code since 1724, the Code referred to as the Vilhena Code, in which there is no reference to local governance as the one we are talking about.

imageIn fact these offices were instituted in 1773 when Grand Master Francisco Ximenes de Texada promulgated a magisterial scripture in which one finds information about how these officials were chosen and a description of their duties. Malta was divided into nine districts, with some of them composed solely of one locality whilst others were composed of a number of villages together. The proclamation was issued on 28th August 1773 and therefore, these officials were appointed yearly on this date, or otherwise a day before if that date fell on a Sunday. The Codice de Rohan contained all that was found in this proclamation.

The Mayors and the Jurors were bound to watch over the inhabitants of their village within the boundary of their locality. The lazy and vagabond people, who chose not to work for no good reason, had to be thrown in the prison of the Court of the Captain in Mdina or in Valletta according to the district. Searches had to be made in the taverns to prohibit lazy people or other people from loitering for entire days or from spending long periods of time entertaining themselves and eating and drinking. All the laws, known as pragmatic, about forbidden weapons had to be observed. Whoever broke the law had to be brought in front of the Court of the Captain to be punished according to the legal code. They had to watch over places of trade and shops to ensure that sellers of any kind do not deceive buyers. This obviously included checking the tools used in the business, such as weights. When there was some form of contravention or fraud by people who couldn’t be found in the district, the Chief Executioner of Mdina had to be notified, who without delay, took the necessary provisions.

The Mayor had to decide upon small cases, whose value did not exceed five scudi, but his decision could be appealed in front of the Captain’s Court. He had the right to have a cell at his house where he could keep anyone who was caught doing a crime, even though they had to be taken to the Court of the Captain at the earliest. Apart from this, the Mayor had the possibility to employ with him four men, who were like policemen, who used to be exempted from doing military service, to assist him execute his duties. Fines paid as penalties for contraventions had to be taken to the Tribunal, where half the sum used to be shared equally between the Mayor and the Juror whilst the remaining half was kept by the Tribunal to be used for the usual practices of the Tribunal. As a sign of authority, the Mayor had the right to affix a red tassel to his hat and hold a rod to signify power.

The Kattapan was the official entrusted with people’s health and therefore used to watch over the taverns for abuses. The Code of De Rohan mentions him in the title but does not make a reference to his duties and this may be due to the fact that he was no longer nominated after 1777, that is, seven years before the issue of this publication. But for those five years, in which this office was active, between August 1773 and August 1778, the Kattapan was appointed regularly and also had the right for payments from revenue generated from fines, which however are not specified. On the other hand, in the scripture of Grand Master Ximenes, his duties are not specified either. We have enough reason to think that his duties were mainly related to the upkeep of public hygiene.

From all this we can conclude that the Mayor and the Juror had an important role in maintaining public order and the observance of the law in the villages or their respective localities. They used to perform duties of policing, surveillance and of a small court. This does not mean that every village had its own official because there were instances when small villages were joined together.

During the French occupation


  • Napoleon on 13 June 1798 divided the country into eleven ‘cantons’;
  • 48 officers, including some Mayors, were nominated to sit on authorities;
  • With the protests against the French the local authorities in the country were dissolved but those in Valletta where the French were blockaded remained;

On 13 June 1798 Napoleon promulgated Orders about the Local Government of the Maltese Islands.  The islands of Malta and Gozo were to be divided into Cantons, the smallest to possess no less than 3,000 persons.  In the city of Valletta there were to be two municipalities.  Each Canton was to be governed by a municipal body composed of five members.

Each Canton had a magistrate.  Such magistrate was appointed by the Commissioner subject to the approval of the General in command of the Division in Malta.

The cantons of Malta were these:

– Canton of Valletta, Floriana and the Three Cities (Cite’ de Malte).

Valletta was divided into two municipalities.

The first municipality, the Western Municipality, consisted of Valletta and Floriana.  Jean Galea, Jerome Delicata, Jean Baptiste Grognet, Jean Francois Sant and Jean Baptiste Agius were nominated to govern this municipality.

The second municipality, the Eastern Municipality, consisted of the Three Cottonera Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea, Cospicua).  Louis Abela, Joseph Maurin, Xavier Carbot, Joseph Musu’ and Marc’Antoine Muscat were nominated to govern this municipality.

These nominees were not officially accepted and changes were made until the list of members was finalized on 22 June 1798.

On 22 June 1798, after some changes were made, the lists read as follows.  The Western Municipality – Etienne Libreri, Nicolas Effner, Camille Sceberras, Philippe Torriggiani, Xavier Portoghese, Aimable Vella (secretary).  The Eastern Municipality – Joseph Maurin, Marc’Antoine Muscat, Jean Dalli, Gaetano Bertis, Gaetano Pisani, Francois Roux (secretary).

– Canton of the Mdina and Rabat – Gregorio Bonnici, Dr Xavier Bernard, Dr Joseph Bonnici, Paul Sciberras, Anton Jean Pierre Vitale, Not Gaetano Vitale (secretary).

– Canton of Zebbug – Stanislaw L’Hoste, Francesco Azzopardi, Gaetano Fournier, Louis Briffa, Saverio Bonanno, Not Joseph Brignone (secretary).

– Canton of Qormi (Casal Fornaro)  and Luqa – Stanislaw Gatt, Dr Emmanuel Micallef, Albert Camilleri, Not Saverio Gatt, Orazio Ellul, Joseph Casha (secretary).

– Canton of Naxxar, Mosta and Gharghur – Not Andre’ Micallef, Dr Francesco Falzon, Louis Bugeja, Giovanni Gafa’, Thomas Chetcuti, Dr Giovanni Maria Borg (secretary).

– Canton of Birkirkara, Lija, Balzan and Attard – Not Louis Caruana, Rev Guzepp Attard, Girgor Gatt, Pierre Camenzuli, Angelo Grixti, Not Saverio Zarb (secretary).

– Canton of Siggiewi, Qrendi and Mqabba – Dr Michelangelo Azzopardi, Karlu Saliba, Nikola Camilleri, Xmun Spiteri, Joseph Magro, Francesco Farrugia (secretary).

– Canton of Zejtun, Zabbar, Ghaxaq and Tarxien – Dr Paolo Mallia, Dr Alessandru Zammit, Anton Busuttil, Angelo Castagna, Joseph Montebello, Not Gregorio Mifsud (secretary).

– Canton of Zurrieq, Safi Kirkop and Gudja – Dr Gaetano Saydon, Gaetano Dalli, Alessandro Damato, Giovanni Cassar, Filippo Castagna, Giovanni Battista Saydon (secretary)

The cantons of Gozo were these:

– Municipality of the City of Gozo consisting of the Citadel, Rabat, Gharb, Sannat and Xewkija – Francesco Cassar, Saverio Busuttil, Joseph Bondi’, Frsncesco Pace, Saverio Pace, Giovanni Cassar (secretary).

– Municipality of Ta’ Caccia consisting of Xagħra, Zebbug and Nadur – Rev Vincenzo Cauchi, Rev Fortunato Grech, Bartilmew Busuttil, Giovanni Maria Sapiano, Francesco Attard, Benigno Cutajar (secretary).

During the blockade of the French


  • Malta divided into two blocks: the countryside in the hands of the citizenry and Valletta and the harbour area in the hands of the French;
  • Provisional local authorities formed to mainly provide food for the population;
  • Properties were pledged to obtain grain from Sicily;
  • Captain Ball reconstituted the Universita’ at Citta’ Notabile;
  • Funds were used to improve the infrastructure in Mdina and Rabat, run hospital at the Dominicans Priory in Rabat, transport of food to St Paul’s Bay and Corradino where Maltese garrisons were stationed;
  • In Gozo the Universita’ was re-established and carried out same duties as counterparts in Malta.

At the National Congress meeting held on 18 February 1799 under the chairmanship of Captain Alexander Ball the following members were elected Representatives of their respective towns and villages:

Attard – Not Saverio Zarb
Balzan – Giuseppe Frendo
Birkirkara – Vincenzo Borg (Brared)
Gharghur – Chierico Giovanni Gafa’
Ghaxaq – Don Pietro Mallia
Gudja – Filippo Castagna
Kirkop – Dr Enrico Xerri
Lija – Salvatore Gafa’
Luqa – Dr Giuseppe Casha
Mdina, Rabat and Dingli – Emmanuele Vitale
Mosta – Parish Priest Don Felice Calleja
Mqabba – parish Priest Don Bartolomeo Caraffa
Naxxar – Paolo Parisio Muscati
Qormi – Stanislao Gatt
Qrendi – Gregorio Mifsud
Safi – Chierico Giuseppe Abdilla
Siggiewi – Parish Priest Don Salvatore Corso
Tarxien – Giuseppe Mobtebello
Zabbar – Agostino Sayd
Zebbug – Pietro Buttigieg
Zejtun – Michele Cachia
Zurrieq –  Suddiacono Fortunato Dalli

At this meeting it was also deliberated that the Chairman shall be Captain Alexander Ball. Dr Luigi Agius (Advocate and Assesor of the Gran Corte Vescovile) was chosen to serve as Judge. Giovanni Battista Agius and abbé Louis Savoye were chosen to serve as Secretary.

The Leaders of the Gozitan Battalion:
Leader: Rev Saver Cassar, Archpriest of the Matrice assisted by Fortunato Spiteri
Rabat – Dr Francesco Pace
Xewkija – Francesco Zammit and Francesco Refalo
Sannat – Angelo Vella and Giuseppe Zammit
Gharb – Tommaso Cassar and Felice Grech
Zebbug – Giuseppe Grima and Martino Asciak
Xagħra – Liberato Grech and Liberato Sultana

During first years of British rule


  • Most of Univerista’ committees were re-established and a lieutenant added to all towns and villages all over the Islands;
  • A ‘captain’ headed local authority in Gozo but later Captain Ball appointed a mayor in the main six villages of Gozo;
  • A proclamation (14th December 1801) clarified duties of lieutenants which were extensively increased through other official documents.

This is a list of Maltese citizens who were among the first in 1801 to be appointed to the post of Lieutenant of their town or village. This was not a military appointment. The post carried with it certain administrative powers and responsibilities, such as those of an executive police officer empowered to arrest criminals and thieves and with the authority of a magistrate who could deal with minor offences where the fine did not exceed 25 scudi. They were also entrusted with some local administrative work and distributing Government relief to the very poor.

Those appointed were men of the strictest integrity who had proved themselves, were able to deal with local needs and serve as laison with the administration of the Government in Valletta.

Kirkop – Dr. Enrico Xerri
Vittoriosa – Dr Giuseppe Casha
Cospicua and Senglea – Filippo Castagna
Floriana – Gaetano Fabri
Birkirkara – Vincenzo Borg
Mosta – Giovanni Chetcuti
Zebbug – Dr. Pietro Buttigieg
Siggiewi – Nicola Camilleri
Qormi – Emmanuele Gellel
Attard – Saverio Zarb
Naxxar – Michele Vassallo
Lija – Salvatore Gafa
Tarxien – Giuseppe Montebello
Luqa – Dr. Giuseppe Casha
Gudja – Giorgio Bonnici
Zejtun – Giuseppe Abela
Zurrieq – Alessandro Damato
Qrendi – Francesco Zammit
Gharghur – Giovanni Gafa
Safi – Chierico Giuseppe Abdilla
Zabbar – Agostino Said
Notable, Rabat and Dingli – Conte Baldassere Sant
Valletta – Conte Paolo Parisio

Maitland’s reforms


  • The posts of Gozo’s governor and mayor and all lieutenants were abolished;
  • Members of the local nobility filled the posts thus vacated;
  • The islands were divided into six districts;
  • Maitland abolished most local authorities and started a policy of strict centralization;

The reforms of 1839 and the appointment of mayors


  • The post of mayor in localities followed the recommendations of the British government commission of 1836;
  • This type of local government remained in force up to 1896 albeit some changes;
  • Lawyers were the only candidates eligible to be appointed mayors;
  • Mayors were vested with civil magisterial powers, were empowered with executive police powers and appointed heads of the seven newly created districts;

The reform of 1880


  • More reforms followed the Sir Penrose Julyan report;
  • The number of districts was reduced from seven to four;
  • Ordinance number III of 1896 abolished the post od mayor;
  • All structures supporting a measure of local authority were thus abolished.

Two attempts at decentralization: 1867 and 1882

  • Some district committees were established with only consulatative powers;
  • First municipal elections held in 1867 with little public participation;
  • On 2394 electors in Malta and Gozo only 482 cared to vote;
  • Other districts had also very low voting participation;
  • Only nominated citizens were entitled to vote;
  • Further elections that followed were just as unsuccessful;
  • Again in 1882 thirteen distric committees were formed;
  • Again voters turn out was poor – for the Zebbug and Siggiewi committee nobody voted;
  • The district councils were again unsuccessful and therefore ineffective.

The second world war (1940-1945) years


  • The Protection Organisation was created: 1940-1945 which catered for the needs of the population – it was an official organisation;
  • Four regional Protection Officers were created including one for Gozo;
  • Other sub-divisions or districts were made with assisstant district commissioners in charge to better reach the population;
  • They gave sterling service to the citizens hard hit during the war;
  • The Protection Organisation ended in June 1945;
  • Governor Carter encouraged parish priests to form district committees;
  • Some were successful others, mainly the harbour area, were not;
  • After January 1946 the district committees disappeared.

Gozo Civic Council


  • The only local authority in existence after WW2 was that of Gozo;
  • This was only a voluntary association;
  • A little later the colonial administration recognised officially the Gozo Civic Council which was made responsible in an advisory capacity for roads, health, finance and generalities;
  • In 1961 the council became the legal authority of Gozo elected by the voters;
  • In 1973 the Gozo Civic Council was abolished by Parliament after a Referendum was held in Gozo.

The first meeting of the provisional Gozo Civic Committee – made up of Anton Tabone, Ġużeppi Cauchi, Rikkardu Buhagiar, and Ġorġ Xerri – was held on October 30, 1958. The committee was to shoulder the task of bringing the complaints of the people to the notice of the central government, and to exert as much pressure as possible on the government to do something for Gozo.

A fully-fledged meeting with a representative from each of the 14 villages of Gozo was held on November 23, 1958.

On June 12, 1959, the second Gozo Civic Committee came into being with a membership of 17 consisting of 14 elected representatives and three co-opted.

On March 14, 1960, the government re-designated the Civic Committee as the Gozo Civic Council, with effect from the following April 4, granting it official recognition.

The Gozo Civic Council was a statutory local government. A new council was elected by general suffrage on June 4, 1961. It was officially inaugurated on July 10 1961.

The council was unceremoniously dissolved by an Act of Parliament on December 4, 1973.

The Gozo Civic Council used to meet at the Banca Giuratale. Built on the site of an earlier structure which was the seat of the local government of Gozo known as the ‘Universitas’, the Banca Giuratale at Independence Square, better known as It-Tokk – was built to the design of the French military engineer Charles Françoise de Mondion (1681-1733) who was responsible for the building of most of Malta’s finest buildings and fortifications.

The original building consisted of an oblong structure on two storeys surmounted by the coat of arms of the Order of St John and Grand Master Antonio Manuel de Vilhena as well as that of the Gozo Universitas.

Due to limited space in 1868 a semi-circular extension designed by Giovanni Bonello was added to the building giving it the appearance that it has today. The original facade can still be seen on the inside of the building.

The Banca Giuratale over the years housed several different entities including the Police, the Notarial Archives, the General Post Office, the Gozo Civic Council and the Department of Agriculture. Today it is the seat of Victoria Local Council and houses also the offices of the Culture and Information Sections of the Ministry for Gozo.

Civic Councils

  • During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a serious drive to organise Civic Councils in many towns and villages;
  • They were not institutionalised and were not in most cases elected through any kind of suffrage. Constituted voluntary bodies sent representatives;
  • They were NGO’s that worked towards the ameliorament of their localities;
  • They can be considered as the forerunners of to-day’s local councils.

Note: For further details on most of the above refer to the article “Forms of Local Governmnet in the Maltese Islands,” by Winston L. Zammit, B.A.(Hons), M.A., published in the Sliema Local Council Magazine, issue April-June 2004, pp. 28-33.


One response to “Local Government 1773 – 1993

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: