The Malta Independent 22 July 2019, Monday

Gozo is rich in opportunities

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 23 June 2019, 09:26 Last update: about 30 days ago

There are always new challenges to confront, and a true winner will embrace each one and turn it into a healthy experience of achieving success.

The fast rate of work all around Gozo in recent years may lead many to forget how static the island was before the first Labour Government in 2013. Decades of procrastination by previous Nationalist administrations have certainly not helped Gozo.

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Talk was cheap and plenty of it flew around over the years, but nothing tangible came out of all the studies, discussions and proposals. A lack of vision and direction almost brought our island to its knees. Gozitans had been losing their desire to invest, innovate and move forward and a brain drain, lack of employment and a crumbling infrastructure compounded the situation.  Gozo was slowly being transformed into a static crib that only came to life for a few months in the summer and hibernated for the rest of the year.

 

Gozo’s regional authority

 Because of the lack of political will of previous administrations, Gozo’s economy found it hard to attract fast-growing and high value-added services compared to mainland Malta. The lack of adequate connectivity between the islands had a further impact on the phenomenon of double insularity. As from day one, this government has been aiming to alleviate this problem in order to attract more investment and business to the island.

I am proud that, as Minister for Gozo, I was the catalyst for a change in mentality and direction where Gozo is concerned. To this effect I pushed to establish a Regional Development Authority for Gozo and I have made it clear that we have to move away from the old way of doing politics. Small-mindedness and parochialism are things of the past. It is high time that all stakeholders collaborate with each other to bring Gozo back on its feet.

Last week, the Gozo Regional Development Authority Bill passed through all the necessary Parliamentary stages. This Act will help strengthen our institutional framework, ensuring that Gozo has in place a regional and development strategy that will be updated and monitored constantly so that that the island’s economic, social and environmental framework reflects the changing circumstances and opportunities that arise.

Gozo is a tiny island on the geographical periphery of the European Union. Its challenges are many but they can be transformed into opportunities. We have now reached the point where the stereotypical approach of one-size-fits-all has been removed from our vocabulary and Gozo, through tailor-made policies, has been given its right as a stand-alone unique destination.

 

A holistic approach

A holistic approach to Gozo’s problems brings in environmental, social and economic issues simultaneously. It is a profoundly simple solution that is not easy to grasp but is feasible and doable and will be the winning formula in years to come.

Gozo must never be an afterthought. It is unique and full of potential and strategies for Gozo as a region must be aimed at boosting the island’s economy. It is ideal for the establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises. With a little help, these SMEs could turn the region into a hive of activity and productivity – always maintaining the core principles of protecting the environment and adopting sustainable practices.

The Gozo Regional Development Authority is an electoral pledge that must be honoured. Gone are the days when Gozo was just a peripheral, remote island to visit in the summer months for a few days or during carnival and Santa Marija. I have been working hard to reverse this trend because I truly believe that Gozo should be given the opportunity to shine and make a name for itself as a unique island that marries culture, heritage and folklore with modern vibrant and exciting innovation. It must be promoted as an island that entices visitors to come to its shores time and time again. This will encourage our young people and brilliant scholars to return and settle in our towns and villages and contribute towards enhancing the wellbeing of Gozitan families through innovative entrepreneurship.

 

Into the 21st century

My aim is to bring Gozo into the 21st century. Our primary road networks are being overhauled, public transport is now working efficiently and our inter-island ferry transport has been dramatically improved with the addition of a fourth ferry. A second fibre-optic cable is being laid on the sea-bed for a more efficient digital connectivity that will modernise Gozo and attract high tech business to our shores and create more job opportunities.

Part of the Ministry’s policy is to continue to invest in Gozo’s cultural heritage and in the preservation of the Gozitan identity. Restoration work is constantly taking place and village piazzas are being embellished to stimulate private sector investment that will attract visitors to the village cores for a unique experience not found elsewhere on the island. A case in point is St John the Baptist Square that has been refurbished by my Ministry, with work in progress on St Francis Square in Rabat. Our master plan includes Marsalforn, Xlendi and Ramla, with the latter only announced this week.

Apart from its geophysical attributes, Gozo’s human resources are of utmost importance. Double insularity and relative seclusion in the past have contributed to the preservation of skills and traditions that have been lost on mainland Malta. Boosting economical development, therefore, must be complemented with advances in health, education and social infrastructure and services. These measures will not only ensure that all our citizens enjoy a better quality of life but will also improve productivity.

 

Our social commitment

We aim to promote a healthy lifestyle amongst Gozitan residents. In fact, my Ministry is involved in the building of the Gozo Aquatic Centre next to the Gozo Sports Complex. This investment of around €8 million will provide state-of-the-art facilities that will encourage students to pursue water sports and will also include therapeutic facilities for the rehabilitation of people with disability. Other sport-related projects in hand include horse-racing, net sports and other disciplines.

Apart from encouraging participation in sport for healthy living, my Ministry is supporting the development of facilities and services for the elderly that are both residential and community-based. The construction of a home for the elderly in Ghajnsielem, currently awaiting tender publication from the Department of Contracts, is another ongoing project and it is the aim of the Ministry to provide new and more inclusive services with the elderly in mind that will create more employment opportunities for Gozitans in Gozo.

Gozo has huge potential and can be a major contributor to the national economy. I am confident that the Gozo Regional Development Authority will kick-start a change in mentality amongst the people and inspire entrepreneurs, artisans, NGOs and other entities to come up with innovative and successful ways of boosting the island’s wellbeing.

I am looking forward to this historic new chapter in our island’s fortunes. My dream of making Gozo the envy of Malta and beyond is within grasp. From every challenge arise opportunities that are tangible and achievable as long as they are taken on with courage, fortitude and perseverance.

I know we have challenges, but we have so many opportunities to get it right. I like it when we have a little bit of a headwind. As the old saying goes, the kite actually lifts when you have a headwind, but it doesn’t when there is lift from the back.

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