Malta - A Country Overview

Information on Malta; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Malta...

Geography

The Republic of Malta covers 316 Km2 and is located in the Mediterranean Sea. It is situated 80 Km south of the coast of Sicily, 340 Km north of Libya and approximately 285 Km from the coast of Tunisia to the east.

Malta is the largest and most populous island of the archipelago. By contrast the two other inhabited islands are quieter; Gozo is a rural island, while Comino used to be the game reserve for the Knights Hospitaller. The remaining 18 islands are rocks unsuitable for dwelling.

Comino and Gozo have green vegetation while Malta is urbanised and is characterised by dry, limestone landscapes. The islands are generally flat with low hills and terraced fields. The coastline is characterised by many natural bays, beaches and cliffs. There are no woods, rivers or permanent lakes in the country.

History

Evidence from pottery consistent with Sicily and Italy discovered on the islands suggests that Malta was inhabited by nomad tribes such as the Sicani as early as 5200BC.

Phoenician traders used the islands as a base until the fall of Phoenicia in 332BC when the area fell under the control of Carthage until local rebellion saw control shift to Sicily. Eventually by the second century AD the islands were a vital part of the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire.

Over the centuries following the 9th century defeat of the Byzantines the islands were ruled by the Muslims, who constructed irrigation systems and introduced fruits, cotton and the Siculo-Arabic language that the current Maltese language is thought to descend from.

Following conquest by the Normans in 1091 under their leader Roger I of Sicily, Malta became part of the Kingdom of Sicily, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, then subsequently the Aragonese Empire.

In 1530, Malta was given to the military religious Knights Hospitaller by Charles V on a perpetual lease. They upgraded fortifications, withstood the Siege of Malta by the Ottomans in 1565, built Valetta and oversaw the creation of many architectural and cultural resources.

The Knights’ reign ended in 1798 when Napoleon sought supplies in the harbour of Valetta before setting off for Egypt. Once inside the city, he attacked and overwhelmed his hosts. Preceded by stories of the French Revolution, Napoleon was welcomed by the people and in six days he reformed the island. He created a new government and twelve municipalities, abolished slavery and feudal rights, put in place a system of public education at primary and secondary levels and also reformed the judiciary. He left a large garrison of troops to oversee the territory when he departed.

After French popularity waned in the country, Britain supplied ammunition, aid and its naval forces to the rebelling natives. France surrendered the islands in 1800. The Maltese leaders presented Malta to British Admiral Sir Alexander Ball and requested it become a British dominion. It became part of the British Empire in 1814.

Its position in the Mediterranean both militarily and for trade purposes made Malta a valuable and strategic outpost. It was used as a base for the British fleet in the Mediterranean as well as a stopping place for those travelling to India via the Suez Canal.

Its military importance was highlighted in World War II when the island received a collective George Cross for gallantry in 1942.

Malta achieved its independence from the UK on 21 September 1964 retaining the Queen as head of state. It later declared itself a republic on 13 December 1974. It was admitted to the United Nations in 1964, the European Union in 2004 and became part of the single currency Eurozone in 2008.

Politics and Government

Executive power is held by the President. As the head of state, the president is elected for a five-year term by the House of Representatives (Kamra tad-Deputati).

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President from the party that achieves the majority of seats in the Kamra tad-Deputati. The cabinet ministers are then chosen by the President under guidance from the Prime Minister.

. Elections to the legislative single-chamber Kamra tad-Deputati are made via a public single transferable vote. Usually 65 members are elected (5 each from the 13 multi-seat constituencies); however in some cases further members can be elected to create a parliamentary majority, or for the sake of proportionality.

Judicial power in Malta resides with the Chief Justice and the Judiciary of Malta (appointed by the President). The legal system includes:

  • Inferior Courts with magistrates for civil and criminal cases
  • Criminal and Civil Courts of Appeal which sit with a magistrate and a jury of nine to appeal the decisions of the Inferior Courts
  • Constitutional Court which tackles issues of human rights and constitutional discrepancies

Administrative power is divided between central government and the 68 local councils across the country which hold elections every three years.

The legal voting age is 18, but from 2015 the voting age in local council elections is to be reduced to 16.

Economy

The Maltese economy is the smallest economy in the Eurozone with an estimated GDP of 11.22 billion $US. The economy is based on tourism, shipping, financial services and manufacturing of products such as pharmaceuticals and electronics. GDP comprises agriculture 1.4 percent, industry 25.3 percent and services 73.3 percent.

It is a free market economy with a degree of government legislation and regulation.

Malta fared better than many European countries during the financial crisis due to most of its debt being held domestically and its banks not being over-exposed to the sovereign debt of other nations.

It relies on imports for 80 percent of its food, has limited fresh water supplies and has no domestic energy source, being 100 percent reliant on oil imports.

Unemployment is relatively low at 5.6 percent as of June 2014 due to government-incentive training programmes and a growing economy (2.4 percent as of 2013).

The Maltese government has invested in attracting foreign film makers to the country with financial incentives and this is a growing sector of the economy.

Climate

Malta has a mild all-year-round subtropical climate with the lowest annual rainfall of any European country. It has very mild winters with daily temperatures averaging around 13 degrees in the coldest months. Hot summers see mean temperatures in August averaging over 27 degrees. Valetta has the warmest winter of all European capital cities.

Security

There are no ongoing security concerns in Malta. However, as for most tourist destinations, caution must be maintained with regard to valuables and personal items.

It is advisable to check your country's official advice for travellers.

Malta's law enforcement includes:

  • Malta Police Force – responsible for criminal investigation, drugs and vice
  • Local Wardens – responsible for traffic, littering, dog fouling and similar offences

Immigration

Due to its geographical position between Europe and Africa and its political position as part of the EU, Malta has been the subject of prolonged and irregular migration from those seeking asylum from African nations.

The controversial EU-approved Individual Investor Programme allows those with €650,000 to invest in Maltese government funds to become citizens of Malta.

Population growth in Malta is largely due to immigration.

Tourism

Tourism is very important in Malta making up a significant portion of the country's GDP.

As well as being famous for its beaches and sunshine, Malta is home to a great number of monuments, ancient archaeological sites, museums and galleries, not to mention religious festivals and natural attractions such as cliffs and impressive coastlines.

Despite its small size, Malta has three UNESCO world heritage sites: the city of Valetta, the Megalithic Temples and the underground chambers of the Hypogeum of Paola.

Medical tourism for cosmetic surgery, orthopaedics, cardiac services and many other disciplines has also been marketed by the Malta Tourism Authority since 2010, with many British-trained practitioners working in private clinics.

Further Information