The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

Gozo, small but beautiful

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 17 March 2019, 09:11 Last update: about 6 months ago

Ambassadors and heads of mission are aware that we live on a small Mediterranean island of 67 square kilometres with a population of around 32,000 and that we are proud of its 7,000 years of history. It is a story of a region on the path to becoming a role model in business and social development, despite its smallness, and despite the handicap of double insularity. 

Experience shows that its success over the years was - and still is - based on the hardiness and industriousness of its people. It is also underpinned by the wisdom of good governance - at the national level in believing in the potential of the region and providing it with the resources it needs to fulfil this, and at the regional level in decisively attacking handicaps and in creating opportunities and making the best of them.


Regional authority

This is best manifested in the activities of a Gozo Regional Development Authority for Gozo as outlined in the bill currently being discussed in Parliament. The Authority will ensure proper coordination and efficient implementation of strategies, policies and measures aimed at generating development in the short, medium and long-term. This involves  the creation of hard and soft infrastructures, the attraction of human capital and the generation of business and living environments that are conducive to a unique quality of life. It requires significant ongoing investments in areas ranging from connectivity infrastructures and business facilities to social and residential amenities. 

It will, above all, call for the participation of key partners in business who believe in the future of Gozo and are willing to contribute to - and share in - its success. I strongly believe that this will be the case, considering the valuable input by the private sector to many areas of development over the years.  This is further encouraged by the fact that the present administration, in a continuum of the 2013-2017 government, is time and again proving its keen interest in attracting unprecedented direct foreign investment and  more business partners to Gozo.

As Minister responsible for this region, it is my firm belief that Gozo's smallness and distinctiveness can - with vision and hard work - be turned into an immense opportunity. It is also my duty to instil this belief into the mindset of all those with a part to play in Gozo's development, to ensure a consistent team effort to make the island a place of choice for international business and economic activity.  This belief is backed by several of Gozo's achievements.  

 Factual backing

Gozo is very important to the Maltese nation as a whole. It provides a home to almost seven per cent of the population and creates around five per cent of Malta's national economic value added. Although separated by a seven kilometre channel of sea, from the economic perspective Gozo is fully integrated with Malta. This makes it part of the success achieved by the country as a whole which, for the past six years, has consistently been one of the best performing economies in the eurozone in terms of economic growth, job creation and fiscal management.

 On a national level, most of the rapid economic growth is being fuelled by tourism activity as well as by new economy services, such as gaming, ICT and financial services. The economy of Gozo has benefitted from - and contributed to - this, growing by over five per cent per annum in per capita terms over the past two years.  This success is fundamentally based on a business model that presents a complementary but distinct economic offering to that of the main island Malta.    

 Natural attributes                   

From the air - as well as on the ground - Gozo appears greener than the main island, its coastal features are more striking and its beaches are of a redder sand. The approach by sea is marked by a landscape of elevations where natural hillocks intersperse with historical forts and temples. Gozo offers the visitor all modern amenities but in the village cores and the countryside, the experiences remain authentically those of the farming, fishing and crafts families. 

Additionally, the historical artefacts blend with millennial landscapes to provide a deep experience of confluence between history, nature and the values of a people marked by hardship but strengthened by endurance and resilience. The Gozo Ministry is constantly promoting the island's product in a way that, over the annual cycle, offers a full calendar of activities to attract both international and domestic tourists, ranging from musical concerts to culinary events and traditional festas.

Gozo thus has a natural vocation to excel in providing an ecological brand for tourism and for residential investment. This is underpinned by a network of high-quality retail and personal service activities. Gozo offers world-class digital connectivity which will now be enhanced by a second fibre optic cable and provides the right working spaces within a congenial living environment. Gozo is also at the forefront of innovation in the provision of tourist  amenities, as evidenced in the high quality services provided in its typically boutique accommodation and the ongoing investment in sustainable cultural regeneration which is lauded at the European level.

An economic model

At the same time, any visitor with some business acumen will note that Gozo's economic model extends well beyond tourism. It is indeed noteworthy that, within the limits of the territory and the available economic resources, Gozo offers a well-diversified production base of activities that are ideally suited to be undertaken within its territory, including those aimed at both the local market and export. 

For example, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry have teamed up with the Government of Malta to establish a medical school in Gozo, providing state-of-the-art teaching facilities just a short walk away from the centre of Gozo's main town of Victoria. Steward Healthcare, the largest hospital operator in the United States, will be responsible for developing a medical hub at the Gozo Hospital, offering excellent medical services to the local community and to visitors.

IT companies such as Thynk Software Ltd and RS2 software are success stories of IT companies setting up shop in Gozo.  Noovle, a Google Cloud Premium Partner offering Google Cloud initiatives, machine learning and blockchain solutions to its clients, opened up shop in Gozo just last year. It is no surprise that, on the occasion, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recognised Gozo as "the place where to do business smartly". 

Smart transformation

The Maltese Islands are undergoing a fundamental transformation to become one of the most productive, inclusive, modern and open economies and societies over the next decade. Within this scenario, Gozo is also becoming increasingly attractive to small-scale, higher value-added manufacturing and services activities. The attraction for such investment lies in the lifestyle propositions for investors and workers that Gozo offers, served by the supportive framework for the attraction of business investment at national level, and through the development of bespoke infrastructural facilities on the island. 

These activities are supported by the development of regional centres of excellence in the Mediterranean which will effectively serve as business gateways to the European Union.  The island itself has an excellent track record when it comes to its capacity to absorb investment funding. We are already benefiting significantly from private and public investment, including funds from European Union programmes, which are creating a vibrant business eco-system. Investment in the region also benefits from more favourable business promotion incentives offered by the Government. 

It is precisely with all this groundwork and credentials, that the Regional Development Authority will deliver a fresh impetus to the efficient provision of public services in Gozo and to the support to business operating from the Island.  My mission is to make Gozo a showcase for small island development, providing the right blend of synergetic interaction between traditional and innovative economic activities. Gozo: small in size but beautiful and unique.

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