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Computing at the Malta Statistics Office, 1947-1970
July-September 2007 (vol. 29 no. 3)
pp. 49-61
Mario Aloisio, University of Malta Junior College and University of Warwick
Malta's establishment of a Statistics Office in 1947 occurred amid political instability and an economic depression. The official compilation and timely publication of statistics by a central government agency-made possible by the introduction of tabulating equipment soon after the Office's creation-proved invaluable for the development of a planned economy despite initial skepticism.

1. Malta obtained its independence in 1964 but British military presence lasted until 1979.
2. In 1955 the Statistics Office became officially the Central Office of Statistics (COS, for short). More recently, following the enactment of the Statistics Act of 2000, the COS was renamed the National Statistics Office (NSO). See the NSO's homepage at http:/www.nso.gov.mtfor the latest statistics on Malta.
3. The only other small data processing installation at the time was that of Simonds Farsons Cisk Ltd., a local brewery. See, for example, A.M. Galea, "When Malta Turned to Computers," The Times Government Computer Centre Supplement, Progress Press, Malta, 18 Nov. 1981.
4. R. Camilleri, "Estimating National Income with Some Reference to Malta," C.C. Vella ed. , The Maltese Islands on the Move, COS, Malta, 2000, p. 60, The first scientific inquiry on record into the patterns of household expenditure is the one carried out by the Commissioner of Labour and Emigration in 1936. Some 100 workers' households were selected and a "cost of living" index with January 1937 as the base month was constructed. The first full-scale household budgetary survey was not carried out until 1971, when a new index was introduced with 1971 as the base year. See R. Camilleri, "The Compilation of the Retail Price Index in Malta," Central Bank Quarterly Rev., vol. 29, no. 1., 1996.
5. See http://www.olivetti.nuhistory.htmfor a brief history of Olivetti.
6. See, for example, J.W. Cortada, Before the Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 65, and M. Campbell-Kelly and W. Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Westview Press, 2004, p. 23.
7. The BTM company started operating in Malta in 1947 ( Informatics , no. 12, 1985, p. 13). In 1959 BTM merged with Powers-Samas to become ICT, which in turn merged with English Electric in 1968 to become ICL.
8. M. Campbell-Kelly, "The History of ICL," The Computer Bull., vol. I, no. 9, 1989, pp. 10-13, An interesting chapter about the development of ICL is also given in M. Rose, Computers, Managers and Society , Penguin Books, 1971. The authoritative work on ICL is M. Campbell-Kelly, ICL: A Business and Technical History, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989.
9. M. Campbell-Kelly, ICL: A Business and Technical History, pp. 90-92.
10. BTM's office was located at 45 Ordnance Street [Triq 1-Ordinanza], Valletta, about two hundred meters away from the COS's premises.
11. Report on the Working of the Central Office of Statistics (Incorporating the Electoral Registry) for the Year 1961, COS, 1961, p. 1, (henceforth COS Report 1961).
12. Lieutenant-Governor's Office Circular No. 12/46, Valletta, 7 Feb. 1946, NAM:CSG 22/13, National Archives of Malta.
13. The Malta Government Gazette,14 Mar. 1947, p. 301.
14. In England, the first decennial census of population was taken in 1801. See J. Agar, The Government Machine—A Revolutionary History of the Computer, MIT Press, 2003, p. 81.
15. Census of the Maltese Islands, Letter dated 22 Dec. 1948, p. I.
16. Ibid., p. V.
17. C. Pollacco, An Outline of the Socio-Economic Development in Post-War Malta, Mireva Publications, 2003, pp. 30-31.
18. Legislative Assembly Debates, 1 May 1950.
19. The main political parties were the Democratic Action Party, the Malta Labour Party, and the Nationalist Party.
20. When Malta was a colony, it was also a diarchy. The colonial self-government constitution of the British Empire gave limited legislative power to a legislative body elected by eligible voters in a given colony. Such an assembly could legislate in areas deemed of secondary importance to British Imperial interests (for instance, taxation, health, housing, education, and public health), but more sensitive areas such as defense, currency, telegraphy, and external trade qualified as "reserved matters" and needed approval of special councils and committees and ultimately the governor who represented the British monarch. The consequence of "reserved matters" rendered Malta completely dependent on Whitehall concerning currency control, international trade relations, and civil aviation. Because of this, development in industry and trade was hard to achieve. See, for example, Pollacco, An Outline of the Socio-Economic Development, p. xiii; and J.M. Pirotta, Fortress Colony: The Final Act 1945–1964, vol. 1., Studia Editions, 1987, pp. 77-78.
21. Agar, The Government Machine, p. 76.
22. Ibid., p. 83.
23. Ibid., p. 246.
24. COS Report 1956–1957, p. 4.
25. T. Balogh and D. Seers, The Economic Problems of Malta, Government Printing Office, Malta, 1955.
26. Pirotta, Fortress Colony, p. 74.
27. The National Accounts of the Maltese Islands, COS, Malta, 1957.
28. The measurement by official sources of the UK national income was first carried out in 1941. In the Netherlands, the National Accounts—important then for determining Marshall aid—were first published in 1948. See, for example, J. van Maarseveen, "A Bird's Eye View of CBS History," in J. van Maarseveen ed. et al., , A Century Rounded Up: Reflections on the History of the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Netherlands, Stichting beheer IISG, Amsterdam, 1999, p. 27.
29. COS Report 1957–1958, p. 9, See also J.E. Spiteri, Malta: An Island in Transition, Progress Press, Malta, 1997, pp. 23-30.
30. J. Harvey, Modern Economics, Palgrave, UK, 1998, pp. 337-340.
31. HM Services refer to labor carried out by Maltese workers (mainly in Malta) for the UK's defense departments. See, for example, Pollacco, An Outline, pp. 5-6.
32. COS Report 1956–1957, p. 2.
33. COS Report 1960, p. 3.
34. See, for example, E. White, Channels and Modalities for the Transfer of Technology to Public Enterprises in Developing Countries, Int'l Centre for Public Enterprise Monograph, ICPE, Yugoslavia, 1983, and J.H. Dunning, ed., The Multinational Enterprise, George Allen &Unwin Ltd., 1971.
35. Although the UK's Department of Technical Cooperation was established in 1961, technical assistance by the UK to its colonies for economic development had been formally recognized since 1950 when the Secretary of State, James Griffiths, addressed a confidential Circular Despatch to Colonial Governments intended "to give a broad picture of the source and nature" of technical assistance and of "the way in which the various forms which it takes can contribute to the development of the Colonies." By 1957, it was accepted policy the HMG should continue to provide technical assistance to former colonial territories as they became independent. See D.J. Morgan, The Official History of Colonial Development, vol. 3 HMSO, London, 1980, pp. 236-239.
36. Census of the Maltese Islands, Malta, 1948, p. VIII, That the 1948 census was done manually is further confirmed in the Preliminary Report of the 1957 Census, p. 3, which states that "Analysis in that kind of detail [referring to, for instance, the number of dwellings having various number of rooms, and accommodating various number of households and persons] is now possible by the use of punched-card machinery. Nearly all of our statistical work in Malta is done today on such machines but at the time of the 1948 Census they had not been introduced."
37. COS Report 1956–1957, p. 9.
38. COS Report 1962, p. 2.
39. In Malta, this process was first conceived at the COS by Albert Galea and Maurice Abela. (Author's telephone conversation with Galea on 20 Mar. 2006.)
40. COS Report 1964, p. 5.
41. COS Report 1956–1957, p. 1.
42. COS Report 1957–1958, p. 5.
43. Ibid., p. 14.
44. COS Report 1957–1958, pp. 14-15.
45. A parallel may be drawn here with what happened at the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of the Netherlandswhen, in 1941, following the transfer of agricultural statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture to the CBS, office equipment was substantially expanded and a separate "Machine Processing Department" was created. See, for example, F. Kellenbach, "From Assembly Line to Electronic Highway Junction," in van Maarseveen, A Century, p. 65.
46. Ir-Review, Dept. of Information, Malta, 27 Aug. 1957, p. 6, and Times of Malta, 11 Feb. 1958.
47. A. Galea interview by M. Aloisio, 13 Oct. 2004, at Galea's home.
48. COS Report 1957–1958, p. 15, One of the officers who attended the course was Galea himself.
49. J. Connolly, History of Computing in Europe, IBM World Trade Corp., 1967, pp. E-18.
50. COS Report 1958–1959, p. xiii.
51. COS Report 1968, p. 5.
52. See, for example, the 1966 and 1968 COS reports.
53. Each category's weighted index is simply the weight of the category multiplied by its index.
54. Thus, if in the base year the price of a certain commodity (or category) is ×cents, and it rises to 1.2×the following year, the index for that commodity is changed from 100 to 120.
55. In 1935 the Department of Labour already held the first partial survey into workers' earnings for the compilation of a retail price index. See Camilleri, "The Compilation of the Retail Price Index in Malta." This article explains how the retail price index for Malta is compiled and reviews the applications to which it can be put.
56. COS Report 1968.
57. The 1004 was one of many computer models produced by Sperry Rand, a major rival of IBM and one of the few companies to have produced computers before IBM did so. It was a small core memory computer (ferrite core memory was by now appearing in a number of computers), using solid state (transistorized) components in its CPU and therefore categorized as a Univac solid state machine. In this respect, it was also a "second generation" type of computer. In Europe, the 1004 was sold as the ICT 1004, this being the model installed at the COS. This model used standard 80-column cards.
58. Although no records of actual financial transactions giving rental and other charges could be traced, the overall yearly expenditure on the machines alone have also been inferred from two other sources. A 1972 government report, for example, states that the hiring of machinery and equipment at the COS was costing government 11,625 Maltese Liri (abbreviated LM, where 1 LM was roughly equivalent to GBP 1.05) per annum. Reports on the Working of Government Departments, 1 Jan. 1971 to 4 Aug. 1972, Government Printing Office, Malta, pp. 29-30.
59. Asked to recall how much the COS paid for the equipment around 1970, Joe D'Amico, another ex-COS employee who worked in the machine division, was very specific: in the early 1970s the two 1004 machines were leased for LM875 (about GBP 920) monthly for 177 hours of use, and if this number of hours were exceeded, a further fee was charged. With a rate of exchange of LM 1 = US$2.6709 (Mar. 1972), the monthly rental charge of LM875 was equivalent to about US$2337. J. D'Amico, interview by M. Aloisio, 4 May 2005 at the NSO, Valletta.
60. COS Report 1969, p. 31.
61. COS Report 1970, p. 24.
62. COS Report 1961, p. 4.
63. COS Report 1968, p. 19.
64. In fact it was only at the end of 1999 shortly before the COS became the NSO that suitable premises were found for the department.
65. COS Report 1965, p. 15.
66. For an illuminating account of some of the problems of tabulating machines see J. Walker, http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/univac case1107.html, 13 Aug. 1996.
67. These problems were also discussed with D'Amico in the 4 May 2005 interview. Additionally, an interesting report in connection with the water and electricity billing system drawn after an official inquiry into customer complaints regarding excessive bills comments on the "cramped" conditions in which the COS personnel had to operate. See C. Montebello et al., Report of the Board of Inquiry into Complaints Regarding Bills and Suspensions of Water and Electricity Supplies, Valletta, 10 Apr. 1963, p. 15, NAM:GMR2518, National Archives of Malta.
68. See, for example, Pollacco, An Outline, pp. 236-237.
69. In 1971, the British forces still employed about 7 percent of the Maltese labor force. Alternative employment had to be found for these workers by the beginning of 1979.
70. The early 1970s also coincided with a worldwide economic depression as well as with a substantial increase in oil prices which caused a further economic depression.
71. "Computer ghal 1-Gvern [Computer for Government]," Ir-Review, DOI, Malta, 10 Apr. 1971, p. 8, (in Maltese). See also G. Westermark, Report on Efficiency Development in the Malta Government, Sept. 1970; and Gazzetta tal-Gvern ta' Malta, 9 Mar. 1971, p. 698.

Index Terms:
Computer applications, computing, Statistics Office
Citation:
Mario Aloisio, "Computing at the Malta Statistics Office, 1947-1970," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 49-61, July-Sept. 2007, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2007.34
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