The Malta Independent 27 May 2019, Monday

Success motivates innovation

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 17 February 2019, 09:38 Last update: about 4 months ago

Diligent governments can never afford to lose sight of change and innovation if they want to lead and not simply administer a status quo. Innovative and feasible solutions are what make me proud to work in the  Labour Government led by a dynamic Prime Minister.

 Until six years ago, Malta and Gozo had been experiencing a long period with no real leadership and, unless managed by crisis, society stood still. It is sad that we are still experiencing a worse and even more confusing situation within the fragments that form an Opposition. We can hardly perceive what they actually stand for on any issue that concerns the nation, except for some recycling of  outdated slogans.


 Changing names at the helm - or among the front players - is nowhere near to changing what has only offered negative and dangerous reactions to the country's constant successes since 2013, and all attempts to tarnish the reputation of all our major institutions can only lead them to  further self-decay.


The latest results

Despite all such theatrics, the good news is that direct foreign investment in Malta up to last June reached €176.5  billion - an increase of  €1.9 billion on the total investment up to the end of the previous year. It proves that the country attracted further trust internationally, despite all the bad-mouthing by those who consistently abuse their  representative role in EU circles and elsewhere.

The month of August 2018 saw a historic high in employment, with the number of those gainfully occupied reaching 209,536.

Registered full-time employment increased by six per cent, while part-time employment as a primary job increased by 1.2 per cent, compared to the corresponding month in 2017. Administrative data provided by Jobsplus shows that, over a period of one year, the labour supply - excluding part-timers - increased by 5.6 per cent last August. This was mainly attributed to a year-on-year increase in full-time registered employment (11,816) and a consistent decrease in unemployment.


Record employment

Parallel to this, as of October last year, 3,508 people with a disability were employed - meaning that the number has doubled since the end of 2013, when the figure stood at 1,797. Official data also shows that the country has, to date, collected €2.5 million in penalties on companies that did not abide by the two per cent quota made legally compulsory, which makes me even prouder to have led the sector. This amount will be used to provide people with a disability with the appropriate training and opportunities to actually find the jobs they are seeking and to benefit from job-coaching  facilities.

Furthermore, the number of women who have found employment has increased considerably, from 6,072 in 2013 to 11,686 in 2018. These include women who can now return to their jobs, thanks to the supportive family  measures, particularly free childcare for all families.


People's well-being

Two particular news items that caught my attention during the week relate to the feel-good factor among our people. The number of people who took trips abroad during 2018 increased by 94,548, or 16.5 per cent, compared to the previous year. A total of 667,048 people travelled abroad last year, a majority of which - 396,870 - went on holiday, with 148,405 visiting friends or relatives. The largest proportion of trips were made by those aged between 25 and 44, but the largest increase was registered by those aged 65 and over. The total estimated outlay increased by 7.8 per cent over the same quarter in 2017,  standing at €148.4 million.

Another item of data refers to a Budget 2013 measure to encourage students to try again after failing their exams which, since it was introduced, has kept over 5,000 students in post-secondary and tertiary education. The aim of the measure was to help students following an academic setback and need to repeat the year. This measure was initially introduced for students at sixth-form level but was soon extended to include university students. We now know that, between the 2013-2014 academic year and that of 2017-2018, a total of 4,832 students have already availed themselves of the opportunity to continue studying, with a further 651 receiving the stipend this year. The stipends cost the government just over €3.1 million, just over €560 per student.


More projects for Gozo

This week, several Gozitan entrepreneurs running small and medium-sized businesses have seen their dream nearing reality, with the approval by Malta Enterprise for 11 projects that will operate from the Xewkija industrial zone, on the site known as 'Tal-Ħofra'.

The project is being developed by Malta  Industrial Parks. For many years, these entrepreneurs operated from garages in residential areas but, thanks to this development, they will now be able to operate from a cluster of real industrial workshops that are designed  and equipped specifically for their needs.

The projects are expected to generate €700,000 of investment in new machinery, as well as creating about 50 new jobs. The operators were approved after successfully applying for space from which to run their business. Together with my colleagues - Industry Minister Chris Cardona and European Funds Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia - it was a pleasure to meet the recipients at the Gozo Ministry and to also visit the site of the new premises. This is more tangible proof that the Labour government wants to make Gozo more industrially accessible, and this investment is an important foundation for achieving that goal.

It is evident to everyone that the island is currently going through a period of very strong growth, and heavy investment in various areas will result in the creation of more jobs. Gozitan SMEs can now invest in the skills of their employees and apply for the various incentives and benefits that are offered through a variety of schemes, including the Gozo Employment Refund Scheme administrated by the Ministry for Gozo. Through this project, the government continues to strengthen the necessary structures for the island in order for it to reach its potential as a driver of the economy.


Connectivity issues

Among other engagements during the week, I was pleased  to be interviewed by The Malta Independent Editor-in-Chief Rachel Attard for her Indepth series. It was an opportunity for me to expand on several issues related to Gozo, particularly the island's needs and proposals for better connectivity. The public in general should know of the many contractual and legal constraints within which the Gozo Ministry has to work, while tirelessly striving for a fourth ferry. This will eventually require structural changes at the Ċirkewwa and Mġarr quays, since these were built to cater only for the type of vessels currently in operation.

Critics would certainly find that talk is cheap and conveniently ignore the fact that the Gozo Channel Company Ltd is operating according to a contract signed in the context of what was needed in 2011, which only stipulates a service with three ferries. In the meantime, the fast ferry service is actually on hold due to legal appeals which have to be decided and followed before  any further action can be taken.

The interview also provided me with an opportunity to talk about the current studies on the re-introduction of a helicopter service, regarding which we first need to ensure its economic viability before any decision can be taken. After all, touching base with all stakeholders is the best way forward with regard to planning new projects or refining the details when implementing them. When dealing with solutions to problems that have existed for decades, one needs to ensure that today's planning is forward-looking and takes into account  future scenarios and challenges.

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