Updated 12pm

The government has launched the legislative process to enable local councillors as young as 16 or 17 to become mayors and deputy mayors.

A bill to amend current legislation was revealed on Wednesday by local government minister Owen Bonnici and parliamentary secretary Alison Zerafa Civelli. 

Currently, 16 and 17-year-olds can vote and contest local council elections, but they cannot become mayor or deputy mayor, even if they receive the highest or second-highest number of first-count votes.

Back in 2019, then-17-year-old Carlos Zarb, contesting on a PL ticket, was the youngest-ever councillor to be elected, receiving the second-highest number of first-count votes in the St Paul’s Bay local council election. Yet, he was unable to take up the post of deputy mayor due to his age. 

If the bill is approved, councillors under the age of 18 who win the highest number of votes from the party that gets the majority of votes can take up the post of mayor or deputy mayor.

It also includes an amendment which will allow mayors under 18 to be able to sign legal documents, such as contracts and cheques, on the local council's behalf. 

The bill also proposes an amendment that would make the council's mayor and executive secretary "jointly" responsible" for representing the council in legal spheres, meaning both can sue - or be sued - on the council's behalf.  

Local council elections take place in Malta and Gozo every five years, with the next election due in June 2024.

'Small amendments for large changes'

Enactment of the bill would make Malta the first country in the European Union where 16-year-olds can be elected mayors. 

The plan to allow 16-year-olds to become mayors and deputy mayors was included in the PL's electoral manifesto and the government’s ‘National Strategic Vision for Local Governments’ document published back in May.  

Owen Bonnici said that while on paper the legislative amendments were “small”, the changes were “significantly large”. 

“This amendment is historic, as we continue to strengthen the role of our youths in society,” he said. 

“I started my political journey at the age of 20, and back then people saw it strange. I knew I wanted to change that narrative. In the past few years, we have seen youths given not only the right to vote at 16 but also to contest local government elections. Now we are giving them the right to be elected mayors.”

Zerafa Civelli said that in the coming weeks, the government would hold talks with stakeholders to develop “mentor programmes” so that local councillors were aware of their obligations and duties, regardless of their age. 

“We have full confidence in the potential of our youths, and I urge Maltese and Gozitan youths to step forward and contest the upcoming local council elections, as you can make a difference in not only your locality but in society too.”

Last year, the Nationalist Party also proposed that 16-year-olds should be allowed to take up the post of mayor if elected to their local council.

Aside from Carlos Zarb in St Paul's Bay, two other underage councillors were elected in 2019: Abraham Aquilina in Għargħur and Ilona Fenech in Sliema. 

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