The Malta Independent 27 May 2019, Monday

Gozo – the national dimension

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 14 April 2019, 09:43 Last update: about 2 months ago

I am frequently reminded of what economist Ernst F. Schumacher said and meant with his phrase: 'small is beautiful', which is often used against those who preach about the pluses of globalisation.

In a sense, I want to believe that that this statement would also apply to Gozo because, factually, the geographical size of Gozo is what it is. However, despite its size, Gozo's natural charm and beauty are quite exceptional. On the other hand, however, I am also aware of what the globalised world represents and stands for. It is a world which has imaginary borders only and enables people to move from one place to another more or less effortlessly and with little or no difficulty.  It is also true that several Gozitans have left the Island to live and work in other communities abroad and make a name for themselves and for their community.

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Gozo has grown. We see facts and figures that are not only encouraging but are positioning Gozo's progress like never before. And yet there is the insularity factor, which does give the island a uniqueness which I cannot over-emphasise but which, at the same time, is the cause of accessibility and connectivity issues.  

The Tunnel Project

To this end we have the tunnel project before us which, in itself, is a gargantuan task for a country as small as ours. The project is an engineering feat and has stirred some emotions and concerns. I would like to address some of the concerns regarding this project rather the advantages, which are all too obvious.

Increased mobility allows for greater opportunities and, more significantly, a more competitive economic environment. But, yes, we should be sensitive to the points that are being raised by those who question the validity and threats of a tunnel.

If the reading on the wall is clear, it is abundantly evident that those who oppose the tunnel are concerned that Gozo will lose its charm and that this in turn will lead to unbridled development, more pollution and more congestion, because more people will visit the island.

This could be a genuine concern if we are to believe that planning laws are non-existent and if we are to imagine that what is so precious to Gozo and the Gozitans will simply be destroyed.  This is why we are taking legislative measures to establish a regional development authority to plan the future of development in Gozo in a sustainable way, as recommended by the social impact assessment.

This Government fully embraces the need to preserve our beautiful island and its culture, but this does not mean the creation of  a cocoon around the Gozitan community. We need to reassure everyone that planning laws must to be adhered to and that our blueprint for this island is, in fact, a holistic approach. There is an age-old adage that says that a road leads to more development. Well, we have to prove that belief wrong.

The tunnel, as we know, will be of significant benefit and will serve to encourage more young people who were born and have grown up in Gozo to stay and not abandon their native island, their families and their ties.  And so, very significantly, it will encourage innovative businesses to set up base in Gozo without the fear of being isolated and impeded by transport issues and costs impacting on their competitive edge.  It is this investment that will provide employment to younger Gozitans - not just in terms of numbers but also in qualitative and career pathways that will meet the aspirations of our talented young people.

 

EcoGozo

The vision for a tunnel coincides with another consideration espoused by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Dr Muscat has suggested that Gozo could serve as a testing ground for the establishment of an electric car island: an ecological island indeed.  Needless to say, we are also very happy to have taken the lead in this area by procuring the first electric buses as part of our de-carbonisation strategy for Gozo. Leading by example, in innovation and change, is no mean feat.

We have many other plans in the pipeline but these will just be dreams if the hurdles and limitations to growth are not resolved by a modern and efficient transport system.

 

Gozo Regional Development Authority

Last month, I said in an interview that today's Gozo is not the Gozo of yesterday. Economic growth has been beyond expectations, unemployment is at its lowest ever and the number of people that used the Gozo Channel service soared to six million in 2018. The biggest challenge Gozo will be facing is sustaining the momentum, and this can continue through the establishment of the Gozo Regional Development Authority, which will focus on implementing the vision by 2030. Through the Gozo Regional Development Strategy, we see a more connected Gozo, with projects and initiatives to preserve its rural nature and natural beauty, but will also result in it becoming more vibrant and energetic.

This was also clearly spelt out in the Motion filed in Parliament that I co-signed with my colleague, Minister Ian Borg. The motion we tabled is, in itself, unprecedented and shows the commitment this Government has towards Gozo by requesting the endorsement of the tunnel project by all Members of Parliament, thereby giving it a national stature.

The message we are sending is loud and clear. The project must be implemented in the most sustainable manner and in the best interests of the socio-economic development of Gozo to ensure the preservation of its natural beauty and cultural and environmental identity.  

This is the future for Gozo as I see it, the Gozo for which I am working and the Gozo I want for my own children. 


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