The Malta Independent 21 April 2019, Sunday

Consistency and commitment

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 10 February 2019, 09:55 Last update: about 3 months ago

One may get used to success, although it is never a given constant in everyday life. In public life, more than in any other role, being successful is an achievement, but sustaining that success on a regular basis requires consistency of focus and purpose.

The long list of firsts achieved over the past years by the Labour Government would perhaps encourage many to get into the habit of taking things for granted. Some may underestimate the hard work required, which may lead to complacency – something that is definitely not our way of doing things. News of best results that keep flooding in are clear proof that we are far from sitting on our laurels but are rather more focused on our goals to achieve more. 

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Recalling the economic and social uncertainties through which the country was going six years ago strengthens our resolve to implement further measures to build on the success achieved so far. Totally loyal to our basic principles of social justice, we are continuously open to innovative ways of securing the well-being of today’s generation, while paving the way for those of the future. 

 

The most dynamic in the EU

In its winter forecast, this week the European Commission has reported that Malta will be the fastest growing economy in Europe in 2019 and 2020.  Our growth rate is expected to be three times greater than the rest of the EU countries. The Commission defined the Maltese economy as one of the most dynamic in the EU.

In its comments about Malta, the EC said that the economy had maintained a strong growth trajectory in 2018, with a particularly brisk expansion in the third quarter and real GDP growth estimated to have reached 6.2 per cent. Starting from the second quarter of 2018, domestic demand has become the main driver of growth. In fact it is also stated that private consumption has been buoyant, reflecting strong employment growth, increasing disposable income and a large accumulation of savings in recent years.  This growth is expected to continue over the forecast horizon.

The Commission went on to say that investment growth is expected to pick up as a result of the large-scale infrastructure projects in the health, tourism and real estate sectors. It also noted that the current account surplus is projected to remain large, reflecting the significant trade surplus of the internationally-oriented services sector. 

Such a positive forecast, together with the latest excellent credit ratings, certainly encourages us to continue the hard work.  It should also invite all the doom-mongers to better understand their proper constitutional role and reconsider their systematic attitude that sways between damaging the country’s reputation abroad and diverting people’s attention  away from what really matters. If media surveys are anything to go by, there is a clear indication that the country wants to move ahead in the best of times. 

 

Record tourism

Notwithstanding the steady growth in the financial services, gaming and other  innovative service sectors, tourism remains a very strong component of our economy.  Year after year, it reaches new targets through the diligent planning and and promotional activities on the part of the Tourism Ministry and the Malta Tourism Authority, supported by heavy investment by the private sector.  

This week’s official figures show that in-bound tourist journeys in 2018 reached an all-time record of 2.6 million, an increase of 14.3 per cent over the same period in 2017. Total tourism expenditure was estimated at €2.1 billion, eight per cent  higher than that recorded in 2017.

The statistics show that tourism saw a growth spurt once again in 2018, in both the number of visits and the duration of such visits. The 2.6 million tourists figure during 2018 is, in fact, double that reached only a few years ago when it stood at 1.3 million.

Gozo has shared this national success on a regional level, with an increasing new trend whereby we now have tourists specifically choosing their holiday in Gozo, rather than merely being day-trippers during their holiday on the main island. The number of channel crossings reached a stunning 5.6 million during 2018, an average of nearly half-a-million a month. With the many popular events we are organising, and with the cooperation of the Gozo Tourist Association, the island is indeed becoming an all-year destination, successfully overcoming the old challenge of seasonality.

 

Our tourist product

The Gozo Ministry strives hard to enhance everything that our island-region has to offer to visitors.  The thematic cultural and entertainment events we organise are only part of our official contribution, in which we invest heavily. Parallel to this, we are constantly committed to infrastructural work all around Gozo, with a view to provide the necessary logistic network for Gozitans themselves and the thousands of tourists who, for many weeks of the year, practically double the island’s population.

The Ministry is also incessantly working on restoration and renovation projects in order to embellish the historic sites that are already well-known as main tourist attractions, as well as reviving and promoting others which, over the years, have lacked the importance they merit. I have always insisted that any development that is required to upgrade our infrastructure must never, in any way, damage the natural and historic heritage, which we should all treasure as a main constant of Gozo’s distinct appeal.

After procedures with the Lands Authority initiated by the Ministry for Gozo, this week the official notice was published in the Government Gazette for the expropriation of four plots of land in the area of Għar Gerduf in Kerċem.  Għar Gerduf is a unique archaeological site which has been abandoned for centuries and which, as the Ministry for Gozo, we are committed to save. It is now official that the land on which Gozo’s only Roman-era catacombs are situated is being expropriated for conservation.

The cost of the expropriation is €400,000 and this is the initial investment we are making. We are now drawing up plans for submission to the Planning Authority for the protection of the historical remains in the area and for the creation of minimal amenities to improve its touristic value. Further research on the natural aspect of this site is also being considered and various funding options for the project are currently being analysed.

 

Enriching Gozo’s attractions

The landmark decision on the catacombs at Għar Gerduf can now be linked to the new initiatives through the Dwejra Opportunity Fund. The loss of the world heritage site, the Azure window, in March 2017 from natural causes, has been regarded as a timely challenge and we have now embarked on an opportunity fund through which we can carry out further research into, and promotion of, other natural or historical sites. The Gozo Ministry will certainly be a prime mover in this direction, thus adding to and enriching the long list of tourist attractions with which Gozo is blessed.

We are fully aware of our island’s natural attractions – with landscapes and skylines that are naturally linked with Gozo. Together with all the operators involved, the Ministry embraces its call of duty in sustaining this natural heritage as we strongly believe that appreciation and diligent use are the best forms of preservation. 

Under my watch, the Gozo Ministry will continue to raise Gozo’s profile internationally and, together with all those involved, we are working to sustain the results we have achieved so far. This is a challenge, but – with the richly composed cultural calendar we have introduced – we are confident that we will be able to build on the success we have already achieved. Our consistent strategy and commitment will lead the way.

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