A village's driving force
By Jonathan Powell
University student Ian Borg became the youngest mayor in the world when he won a local council election in the European island of Malta early last year. He was only 19 at the time.
Having established the youth section of the Maltese Labour Party in his village of Dingli at 16, Borg decided to run for election two years later.
Through traditional campaigning, appearances on national television debates, and by writing about his views in the youth section of a weekly newspaper, Borg became a familiar face. When it was time to vote for a new leader, the 4,000 people in Dingli chose him by a landslide.
Borg was among a 42-member delegation from Malta who visited Hong Kong last week.
'We had an old mayor before and it was time for a change,' said the law student, who turned 21 in April. 'I've always been always interested in organising activities and being involved in the community. I thought 'why not be someone who decides how to run the village'. The aim is to generate money for our village and do good for our families.'
Borg has 10 people working for him in a four-storey government office. Much of his work involves organising projects for young people in his village. His fresh ideas and optimistic outlook have changed the thinking of the locals.
'I think with a young person as mayor, the youth are more interested in what's happening. But when I'm with my friends, I'm not the mayor. We forget our differences.'
He says it's not easy being a mayor at a young age, and people often ask him why he is making the effort.
'I say that someone has to do it. I'm making a sacrifice so other people can benefit. I never imagined I would win. But the people voted for me.'
Balancing work and his studies at the University of Malta - a 45-minute drive from his village - is manageable, he says.
'I try to spend two hours a day in the office after my studies, and I'll be there through the whole summer.
'I'm not aiming to go into politics when I finish university. I will become a lawyer. In politics other people decide if you stay or go. It's not secure. Law will secure my future. With this experience, maybe when I am older I will be able to contest for a place in parliament.'
Life experiences are as valuable as academic qualifications for Borg, whose mother is a housewife and father a building site contractor. 'I wasn't a top-grade student,' he says.
'I think achieving top marks in exams is admirable, but I didn't want to spend my youth at home studying all the time. I prefer to get out there and
learn about life through meeting people and getting life experiences.'
A visit to the Yan Chai Hospital No 2 Secondary School in Wong Tai Sin made a deep impression on Borg.
'I've found Hong Kong people to be very friendly, so helpful and welcoming. When we visited the school, they did so much for us, made lunch, gave us gifts and performed a show. People are so polite here, and the children have impressive discipline,' he says. The delegation will visit Guangdong, Beijing and Tianjin .
To learn about exchange opportunities in Malta, visit www.dingli.gov.mt