The Malta Independent 29 May 2024, Wednesday
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Malta Independent Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

The 2007 budget estimates for Gozo were approved in parliament yesterday after the traditional doom and gloom scenario being depicted by opposition MPs and a utopia being described by the government benches.

The Malta Labour Party focused on the lack of jobs and opportunities for Gozitan people as well as the waste transfer station proposal for Xewkija, the proposed extension of the Gozo helipad and the interruption of the helicopter service to Gozo.

The government, on the other hand, focused on the increased budget vote to Gozo and what Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono termed as “record levels of investment”.

Another issue that was brought up by both sides of the house was the need for more facilities for the mooring of cruise liners for visits to Gozo.

Anton Refalo (MLP)

MLP Gozo spokesman Anton Refalo said that the PN government told people to judge by actions and not words. “Yet in Gozo, the government has done nothing or very little. Gozo deserves more. This is a government of bluff, superiority complexes and hot air,” said Dr Refalo.

He also said that the helicopter service to Gozo had disappeared, quoting Minister Debono as saying that bookings had surpassed expectations last summer. He also quoted Communi-cations Minister Censu Galea as

having said that the company could not up sticks and leave, as it had entered into a binding contract.

Dr Refalo asked various questions of the Gozo Minister, including whether the Malta Environment and Planning Authority was processing an application to increase the helipad in Xewkija to a length of 1,200 metres. He also asked whether the helipad was 200 or 600 metres long at present.

Another question he posed was whether this was to be an extension to the pad or whether it was being turned into a cross form of airstrip that could accommodate the landing of small aircraft that carry 12 passengers. “But has there been an Environmental Impact Assessment? Will it be an inconvenience to residents? And will it be able to take international arrivals?” he asked.

Dr Refalo also asked if it was true that there was a rift between Investments Minister Austin Gatt and Minister Debono, because the former wanted to halt the Sa Maison cargo ferry service to Gozo. In closing, he said: “We were promised a casino, a yacht marina and a golf course, yet the government has delivered nothing. There were promises to bring more tourists, and yet arrivals have fallen by about 11 per cent. This budget vote was nothing but mere playing with figures.”

Justyne Caruana (MLP)

Gozitan Labour MP Justyne Caruana said that the government did not do enough for Gozo, citing the allocation of the Italian protocol funds as an example. “Gozo got nothing from that funding, and whenever any roadworks are carried out, they are always haphazard and unplanned,” she said.

Speaking about the new ferry terminal in Mgarr, Dr Caruana said that Gozitans were asking many questions about how it will work, such as whether parking would be free. “Kiosk owners want to know what the effect will be on them,” she said.

Touching on the issue of cruise liners, she said that the government could look into installing mooring buoys. “It is a simple system and not very expensive. The government should implement it to encourage more people to visit Gozo,” she said.

She also spoke about Hondoq Ir-Rummien, saying it was the only natural beach left in Gozo and it, too, was going to be handed over to developers, despite the resounding “no” to development in the Qala referendum. She said that the MLP respected that vote.

“Gozitans have no spending power, factories and hotels are closing and there is no work. People are again emigrating to the US and to Australia. There are zero opportunities here,” she said.

She also appealed for the government to expedite the reassignment of pregnant civil servants to Gozo, as commuting to and from the island can have an adverse effect on the health of them and their babies.

Ms Caruana asked how the government could find Lm1 million to attract low-cost airlines, yet not subsidise the Gozo helicopter service. “And MLP MEP Joseph Muscat has established that this is permissible under European rules,” she said.

She also appealed for the government to allow intravenous chemotherapy to be administered in Gozo as it would make life much easier for Gozitan cancer patients, especially bearing in mind that there were qualified nurses who could carry out the treatment.

Giovanna Debono (PN)

Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono said that the budget vote for Gozo showed the progress that had already been made, which is expected to continue in the future.

“People must ask why the opposition is always doom and gloom. People expect, rightfully, that political parties speak responsibly and do not twist the facts,” she said.

Mrs Debono said that nothing was perfect, but that the PN did not give up. “We had a very good year. A lot has gone on and that’s because the budget vote to Gozo increased, which means more projects and more investment in Gozo. Challenges do not frighten us.”

She said Gozo was special, and needed special treatment, and the government recognised this.

“Money has been spent on improving the tourism product, schools and sewers, we have closed the dump, water quality has been improved, agricultural methods have also been updated and there are a vast number of courses that are on offer,” said Minister Debono.

She said that, every year, Gozo gets a larger slice of the budget vote. “We are trying to create jobs. In fact, there are over 1,000 students attending courses in Gozo for arts and crafts,” she said.

Speaking about the issue of hotels, Mrs Debono said: “Yes it’s true. Some have closed, but others have opened. Over the past 10 years, we have seen an increase of 188 beds and if we look at tourist arrivals in Gozo as an end destination, we can see a 15 per cent increase over last year. Also, the number of people in self-catering accommodation doubled to almost 2,600,” she said.

She said that the scuttling of a vessel off Ras il-Hobz has increased the number of divers attracted to the area. “It was an almost forgotten dive site, but people are returning to it and we should also not forget that we will shortly be publishing the master plan for diving,” said Mrs Debono.

She said that another initiative that would be underway shortly is the resurfacing of the road to Dwejra. “Gozo gives added value to Malta and that is a credit to this island, not an insult, as some members of the opposition consider it,” she said.

A tender will shortly be issued for the creation of Zewwieqa waterfront near Mgarr, said Mrs Debono, and the government was already considering placing secure buoys off Gozo to allow the berthing of cruise liners. “Many of the things the MLP tells us we should do are already in motion,” she said.

She also said that the fact that the helicopter service had been disrupted was not at all satisfactory, but said such news is exactly what the MLP loved. “But they have not left for good, we are still in discussion with them. In fact, they have left some of their equipment in Malta. We do not mind constructive criticism but influencing the public with inaccurate claims is not fair,” she said.

Frederick Azzopardi (PN)

Nationalist MP Frederick Azzopardi said that the government was adopting the same principles in Malta and Gozo, while at the same time making sure that the particular circumstances of the island were kept in mind.

He said that the three Es – education, the environment and the economy – were all being pushed forward in Gozo. “The government also recognises the particular problems faced by small and medium enterprises, which is why it is trying to get rid of as much red tape as possible,” he said. In addition, said Mr Azzopardi, the government was doing a lot to improve Gozo’s infrastructure.

The report of yesterday evening’s debate on the estimates of the Tourism and Culture Ministry will be published tomorrow

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