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A brief history of the founding and early years of the Chamber and the story of the warrant - by Prof Robert Ghirlando

In this article, I shall be writing about the early years of the Chamber, i.e. on how it came about and the saga of the warrant.   I hope that these notes will be useful to a future author of the history of Engineering in Malta.

Before the birth of the Chamber, Malta’s engineers could become members of one or more of three organisations.  One was The Malta Joint Group of the Council of Engineering Institutions of the UK, officially sponsored by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Today the Group calls itself the Group of Professional Engineers and represents all the institutions that are members of the Engineering Council.   Then there was the Joint Group of the Institution of Marine Engineers and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects; still active today.  Finally there was the Malta Association of Electrical Engineers, no longer in existence since it was absorbed into the Chamber when this was formed.

I joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1965, in my first year at University, as a student member and automatically became a member of the Joint Group.  On my return from my postgraduate studies in the UK in early 1974, I soon found myself a member on the committee of the Joint Group.  I eventually also served as Assistant Secretary.  I attended all the general meetings that led to the foundation of the Chamber of Professional Engineers and was elected to the first council of the Chamber, on which I served for a number of years.  The following is based on my recollection of those days and papers in my files.

The Malta Joint Group was set up in 1961, based on regulations that had been issued by the Institutions of Civil, Electrical and of Mechanical Engineer mentioned above.  In 1968, these three Institutions agreed to allow the Joint Group to encompass members of other Institutions belonging to the Council of Engineering Institutions.

The idea of a national institution of engineers can be traced back to the those days when it was discussed seriously by some officers of the Joint Group and the Institution of Electrical Engineers.  These discussions led to the formation in 1969 of the Malta Association of Electrical Engineers.  This association became one of the founder members of the Malta Federation of Professional Bodies when this was set up on the 19th February 1971.

The issue of a local institution was discussed at various AGMs of the Joint Group.  In many Commonwealth countries, Joint Groups had evolved into national institutes of engineers.  In 1968, the committee of the Joint Group studied the possibility of forming a Malta Federation of Engineering Organisations.  A paper was submitted to the AGM and a sub-committee formed.  In 1969, the idea of a federation was dropped, and the sub-committee was charged with studying ways and means of obtaining government recognition of professional engineers.  In 1970 and 1971, discussions were held at the Office of the Prime Minister but led nowhere; a stumbling block appears to have been the definition of a mechanical engineer. The Malta Association of Electrical Engineers prepared a draft bill, in 1971, for a law to give professional status to engineers. But in June 1971, a general election was held which led to a change in Government, and a halt to the process of gaining recognition for the engineering profession; this would not be the only time that a general election would stop progress on this issue.

At the AGM of the Joint Group of July 1975, it was agreed that the committee should set up a Working Party to examine “what further steps the Joint Group can take to develop the aims of its component institutions in the particular circumstances of Malta”. Major Macmillan was the driving force behind this working party, and a report drawn up by the Working Party has provided much of the information for this article.  I remember clearly when Major Macmillan joined the committee of the Joint Group during one of our monthly committee meetings at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology where we used to meet. This was the original MCAST built in the 1960s, also known as Polytechnic; the building now houses the Junior College of the University.  Major Macmillan was a member of a team of Royal Engineers (better known as REME), who had been sent to Malta by the UK Government to assist in certain infrastructural projects, such as a new boiler house for St Luke’s.  As part of their work, the Working Party carried out a survey among members of the Joint Group.

In the paper that accompanied the survey questionnaire, the Working Party gives the background to the formation of the Joint Group and the attempts up to that time to promote the profession.  They also included a breakdown of the known membership of the profession at the time, which was as follows: Electricals (92), Mechanicals  (56), Civil (40), Marine (34), Electronic/radio (11), Naval architects (10), Others  (15), Total  (258).

Two points regarding the formation of a local organisation of engineers might be worth mentioning.  One relates to the fear that if a local organisation were formed, the Joint Group might have to fold up with consequent loss of financial support from London. That apparently had been the practice in other Commonwealth countries.  The authors of the paper point out that this had not happened in Hong Kong, where the Joint Group was co-existing with the local institution.  In the end, the fears were unfounded and the Malta Joint Group is not only still in existence but also quite active with frequent lecture type meetings.  The other point made in the paper was that the impetus for the formation of a local national organisation had to come from local sources.

Following this work and the results of the survey, the three organisations set up a joint sub-committee to work towards the setting up of a local national institute of engineers, the Chamber of Professional Engineers.

On the 29th January 1978, a notice appeared in The Sunday Times of Malta saying that The Malta Joint Group of the Council of Engineering Institutions, the Malta Association of Electrical Engineers and the Joint Royal Institution of Naval Architects and Institute of Marine Engineers (Malta Branch) were working together to set up a Maltese Chamber of Professional Engineers.  A Steering Committee had in fact been set up for this purpose, composed of representatives of these three bodies, namely Mr A. Camilleri, Mr. A. Raimondo, Mr. J. Abela, Mr. T. Cusens, Mr. H. Spiteri and Mr. A. Cachia.  The first meeting open to all bona-fide engineers to discuss the setting up of the Chamber was held on the 9th April 1978.   This meeting was meant only as a preliminary one prior to a general meeting to approve a statute and elect the first Council.   A draft statute was in fact presented and discussed at this meeting. Further discussions were held at a second meeting on the 17th April.  We were then given up to the 28th April to submit further amendments, and a third meeting was held on the 19th May to discuss the amendments submitted by various people.   Finally a meeting was held on the 9th June to approve the outstanding items of the Draft Statute of the Chamber of Professional Engineers and to elect its first Council Members.  The final draft of the statute was approved and the first members elected.

All these meetings were held at the Building of the Professional Bodies in Wilga Street, Paceville, which also housed the Malta Association of Electrical Engineers, who were founder members of the Malta Federation of Professional Bodies.

Thus the 9th June 1978 is the date the Chamber was officially founded.  The first council meeting was held straight after the meeting and proceeded to elect the first officials.  Mr Albert Camilleri was elected as the first president of the Chamber, Mr. Joe Abela as Vice-President, Mr Tom Cusens as Hon. Secretary, Mr Victor Sciberras as Hon. Treasurer, Mr Paul Licari as Hon. Assistant Secretary.  The other elected members were Mr Henry Mallia, Mr Joe Agius, Mr Harry Spiteri, Mr Joe Cuschieri (a student) and myself.

The first priority for the Chamber was to pursue the issue of the warrant, and contacts were made with Government, but time passed and it was election time (1981), and the matter had once again to be shelved.

In 1981, I made what with hindsight I might consider as the most useful telephone call I ever made for the Chamber.   I remember phoning Maurice Debono and persuading him to stand for election to the Council of the Chamber.  To my delight he accepted.  He duly got elected and when the new Council met for the first time to assign posts, Maurice was asked and accepted to be the Hon Secretary.  In 1985, he carried out a thorough revision of the statute.   He also undertook a couple of surveys among the Chamber’s members.  However, his greatest contribution came later, when he had the inspired idea of changing completely the concept on which the law for the warrant was based.  The 1971 draft tried to define what a civil, electrical and mechanical engineer could do, which was not an easy thing to do and could also give rise to never-ending discussions to find a suitable answer.  Maurice came up with the idea of defining what is required to be registered as a warranted engineer and leave the issue of what he can and cannot do to subsequent legislation and regulation.   Indeed this is what happened.  The present Engineering Profession Act only goes as far as laying down the rules for registration (and deregistration) of engineers. It is in other pieces of legislation that one then finds instances that require the services and signature of a warranted engineer.

In 1984, a detailed memorandum, including a draft bill was submitted to Government, but no progress was achieved and before we knew it, it was once again election time (1987).

By now, Maurice had been elected President of the Chamber (in 1986), and it was therefore appropriate that he should lead the campaign for the warrant.

Following the general election in May 1987 and the change in Government, the Chamber went round, as did other organisations at the time, meeting various members of the new Government. Meetings were held with the (late) Hon Pierre Muscat, Parliamentary Secretary for Posts and Telephones on the 1st June, with Hon Michael Falzon, Minister for the Development of the Infrastructure on 15th June, with Hon Ninu Zammit, Parliamentary Secretary for Water and Energy on the 10th July, with Hon Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, Minister for Education on the 17th July and with Hon John Dalli, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry on the 23rd July. At each of these meetings, the issue of the warrant was discussed at length, and all Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries not only expressed support but stressed the need for the warrant and asked the Chamber to submit a proposal.  This was submitted immediately and in early February 1988, we saw the passage through Parliament of the Engineering Profession Act.  I spent three nights in Parliament following all the debate and assisting the Minister for Education, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, who piloted the bill through the House.

Maurice Debono passed away on the 23rd May 1989 after a battle with cancer lasting 14 months, having seen the Engineering Profession Act become law but not the issue of the first warrants.

The saga of the warrant was however not over.  Although the Minister responsible for the Engineering Board, Michael Falzon, was very quick in setting up the Board, the law only gave this first Board one year’s life, after which it had to be made up of warrant holders.  When the year was up, no warrants had as yet been issued.  There were therefore no warrant holders to form the Board to replace the first one whose time was up.  We were left without a Board.  At first the Minister was reluctant to go to Parliament and change the law but it was clear that there was no other way out,  so he did, the law was amended, the Board reconstituted and once again got on with the job.  The  first applications for the warrant were issued, engineers applied and all was set for the first warrants to be issued in December 1990 when we came up with a second hurdle.  This time it was over who should sign the warrant.  Traditionally, warrants were signed by the President of the Republic who had taken over this function from the (British) Governors.  But the warrants for accountants and auditors were signed by the Minister, and ours were to follow suit.  The Chamber was not happy with this and tried to insist with Government that the law should be changed in order for engineers’ warrants to be signed by the President as was the case for the warrants of the older profession, such as those of architects, lawyers and doctors.

An EGM held on the 10th November 1992 confirmed the members’ wish to keep on insisting with Government.  Government was however adamant, insisting that eventually all warrants would be signed by the respective Minister. After a long impasse, the Council of the Chamber felt that it was fighting a losing battle and that it was time to change tack.  Consequently another EGM was held on the 13th May 1993, when the members present agreed to accept the Minister’s assurances that all warrants would eventually be signed by the Minister concerned and approved a motion calling on the Minister to put the law in operation and to proceed with the issue of the warrants.

That year, 1993, saw the Council calling another two EGMs, one on the 23rd September to approve a code of ethics to submit to the Minister and another on the 29th November to change the statute of the Chamber so that this would now be an association of warrant holders and so could be recognised by Government.

The first warrant holders took their oath before the Chief Justice and another two judges on the 1st December 1993 and presented with their warrants on the 3rd December by the Minister for the Environment, Hon Michael Falzon.  Thus ended the story for the legal recognition of the profession.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 November 2012 14:31