The Malta Independent 18 August 2017, Friday

Focused and busy during the summer

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 13 August 2017, 09:51 Last update: about 5 days ago

The summer holidays are quite hectic for the Labour Government, with structured discussions at various levels in preparation for the next budget. True to our word, we have already set the ball rolling in respect of some election proposals, while many others are being studied in detail and will be further specified soon after the reopening of Parliament. 

Like all other ministries, the Gozo Ministry is fully engaged with such meetings, going into technical and financial details while fine-tuning the proposed projects. Such measures are the result of listening attentively to the people who, in turn, overwhelmingly approved them on Election Day. We have pledged our commitment in return to the people’s unequivocal trust and that will be our way ahead.

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A fruitful meeting with the GTA

A detailed look at the current tourism situation in Gozo was a most welcome subject during a productive meeting I had last week with members of the Gozo Tourism Association, led by chairman Paul Scicluna. It was agreed that Gozo is experiencing a positive trend in this important sector, which supports a large number of Gozitan families. However, we agreed that words need to be translated into facts, and that some issues, which have already been on the agenda for many years, need to be addressed.

Among the priorities mentioned was the importance of better accessibility between the islands, the availability of quality human resources in this extremely important industry and the tourism product offered by Gozo. We must have greater enforcement to halt any abusive practices on the island, and I am pleased that the GTA also appreciates the recent introduction of intervention teams for urgent on-the-spot clean-ups in areas popular with tourists that help strengthen Gozo’s tourism product.

It is imperative to have real empirical data of what is actually happening in this area, together with updated statistics on the situation. The Tourism and Economic Development Directorate within the Ministry is constantly working to coordinate and improve the use of resources when it comes to marketing Gozo as a distinct destination. This improves the tourism product and ensures that labour market trends, analysis and evaluation are always at the forefront, in order to attract new markets. I emphasise the need to diversify in order to offer various services and niches to attract to the island those who perhaps have different expectations than average visitors. The GTA thanked the Ministry for the importance shown towards tourism in Gozo, both foreign as well as domestic, with a number of initiatives that are planned for the future, aimed at attracting more tourists throughout the year.

 

MCESD GOZO

On Friday, together with my colleague Dr Aaron Farrugia and MCESD chairman John Bencini, I took part in a fruitful consultation meeting with Gozo's representatives on this national body. We agreed on the importance of following a long-term strategic plan for Gozo in order to maximise the island’s resourceful potential in securing job creation, better connectivity and infrastructural upgrades as our major targets. 

Many people will recall the various projects that have been repeatedly promised for decades without ever being realised. These negative experiences need to be overcome by identifying the way forward and getting our priorities organised with practical and feasible timeframes for their implementation. A healthy and ongoing dialogue with social partners is the most effective way for any responsible politician to stay in touch with people’s needs and expectations in addressing current and future challenges.

We are planning to have Labour’s proposals for Gozo seriously and tangibly tackled by the budget for 2018. The relative measures, together with the ongoing dialogue, should lead to more effective methods whereby Gozo’s public and private entities can further gain from additional investment, better financial structures and EU funding. True to its electoral pledges, the government is determined to place Gozo at the centre of its major priorities at a national level.

 

The Arka Foundation

Visiting the Arka Foundation in Għajnsielem this week, I was reminded of the close collaboration I had with this Church organisation when I was responsible for the elderly and disability sectors. The Arka Foundation was founded as a non-governmental organisation in 1999, to offer various services by qualified people in the disability sector.  

Dar il-Ġublew tal-Ħniena, which I opened at the end of last year, is a joint project in partnership between the Arka Foundation and the government through an investment of around €350,000. The Foundation intends to expand further and is about to acquire further premises in the same area as Dar il-Ġublew, which will help reduce logistical problems and ensure that attention is concentrated in one particular area.

It was a pleasure to note that the home had achieved its ultimate goal – of improving the quality of life for its five residents – and I stressed the importance of the inclusion of disabled people in society through wider participation and active citizenship. In my new role as Minister for Gozo, I am committed to embrace the principles of the National Policy on the Rights of People with Disability, for which I worked hard. We wish Arka further success, both as stakeholders and as an island community, and are committed to implementing all the various recommendations contained in the National Policy.

 

Feast of Santa Marija in Gozo

This weekend, thousands of Maltese and foreign tourists are crossing over to Gozo to celebrate the traditional Santa Marija feast in Gozo. Many of them will be staying for the long weekend, and the majority of hotel and other providers of holiday accommodation are already reporting very high occupancy rates. Undoubtedly, the management and workers of Gozo Channel will be rising to the occasion to provide the best service to so many visitors.

This year is also the 75th anniversary of Operation Pedestal. The arrival of the tattered remains of the ‘Santa Marija’ convoy, carrying food and fuel, saved Malta from surrendering when it reached the islands on 15 August 1942, despite the heavy bombardment inflicted on it by German and Italian planes and the sinking of many of the ships. We owe this remembrance to our forefathers for their endurance and bravery.

Gozo’s particular attraction for the feast is the annual Agricultural Exhibition, with 163 years of tradition of our own Agriculture, Industrial and Cultural Society. All three sectors within the Society are closely linked to tourism, as they show how Gozitan trades and skills are in perfect tune with the island’s historic and cultural heritage.

 

Welcome to Gozo

As a Ministry, we have been planning ahead of this annual festive event with various initiatives. At the moment there is urgent work being carried by Enemalta and the WSC in various streets in Victoria. Immediately after the Santa Maria Feast, the Gozo Ministry will be resurfacing these streets and it has been a major task in recent days to coordinate and schedule the work as early as possible, for both the convenience of the residents and improved traffic flow during the high season. Additional infrastructural projects will be launched in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, with a packed cultural calendar this summer we are aware of the greater numbers who will choose Gozo as a traditional destination for their mid-summer holiday.

In line with public health appeals to combat the current high temperatures, the Gozo Ministry – via its Animal Welfare Section – embarked on the novel initiative of providing free drinking water for pets travelling to Gozo and also pet tickets. In just a few hours, more than 80 pets made the journey to Gozo! Through the various directorates within the Ministry and other entities in Gozo, I am taking all the necessary steps to ensure a hearty welcome and a pleasant stay for all our visitors – and in turn anticipate their full cooperation as our welcome guests.

 

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