The Malta Independent 11 November 2019, Monday

The best is yet to come

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 14 July 2019, 10:07 Last update: about 5 months ago

Diligent and consistent planning, together with an incessant implementation of decisive social measures, are the core basics of Malta’s robust economy and the healthy wellbeing of the nation.

This Labour Government is totally committed to reaching out to all groups of society with a strong resolve to ensure prosperity with a purpose. This has yielded significant results to such an extent that many have grown used to a constant feel-good factor. 



The best in Europe

This week, the European Commission has predicted that, by the end of the year, Malta’s economy will have grown by 5.3 per cent, compared to an average 1.2 per cent in the Eurozone, and that the country’s growth next year will be 4.8 per cent – a full percentage point more than the rest of the EU countries. This rapid growth is no coincidence. It is the fruit of sound macroeconomic policies and the creation of new jobs, low unemployment levels and vastly improved public finances. It is also thanks to a stable government that is tirelessly focused on reform and on implementing policies that create quality jobs, enhance people’s well-being, ensure the standard of living of pensioners and improve – as has been done over the past few months – a fairer attitude towards affordable housing.

A thriving economy means that Maltese and Gozitan families enjoy a higher standard of living. Indeed, the growth of both islands is mainly due to consumer demand. This means that the Maltese and Gozitans are spending more money – all thanks to the lowest unemployment level ever recorded, increased earnings, huge public and private investment and a dynamic labour market in which continuous training is being provided and – very notably – more women are joining the workforce in all sectors.


Gozo’s flourishing economy

As an island-region, Gozo has its own particular needs and challenges that call for particular and specific remedies. In full recognition of this reality, the Labour administration has addressed the situation so consistently that, in just a few years, the country has reversed Gozo’s ‘lagging behind’ status that has existed for many decades and the island has now become a net contributor to the national economy.

The Labour Government fully understood that, as far as the economy is concerned, easy access and a fluidity of movement to and from an area are intrinsic to its sustainable growth and that mobility has a significant effect on a region’s competitiveness and prosperity. Accessibility also has a role in enabling social development within communities by reducing isolation and enabling people to gain access to employment, healthcare, education, change and social activities.

While isolation can be a problem when it comes to the movement of local people from a specific area, it can also have a negative effect on the number  of visitors, thus affecting the potential to develop a tourism market and, in turn, a source of local income. However, the results that we have actually achieved over the last few years have steadily changed that depressing situation and Gozitan families and businesses are now continuously looking ahead to future successes.


The challenge of connectivity

It is a centuries-old reality that Gozitans rely on transport to mainland Malta as part of their everyday life. Whether it is for leisure, work, school or for the transportation of goods and services, without accessibility we cannot be competitive and thrive economically. Improving accessibility for Gozitans, businesses and visitors is therefore high on the Ministry’s agenda. Since the very first days of my appointment as Minister for Gozo, this issue has been at the core of the Ministry’s planning, because transport has a huge influence on local economic development and destination sustainability – particularly where tourism is concerned.

The Gozo Ministry is doing its utmost to boost Gozo’s economy and ease the burden of crossing over to the mainland for businesses and private citizens alike. This week, I had another opportunity to speak about this, and other Gozo-related issues, in Parliament. In fact, I referred to the new package of allowances for Gozitans working in Malta – numbering around 3,000 – who, between them, are enjoying direct aid amounting to €2 million a year.

In the last budget, there was an increase in the reimbursement of travelling expenses for Gozitans who have to go to Malta for cancer treatment. We are now reimbursing relatives and other people who accompany them and, for the first time ever, an additional allowance towards accommodation is being given to patients who have to stay in Malta for treatment outside the hospital.


An ever-increasing demand

Over and above the usual daily needs, the number of visitors crossing over to Gozo has increased dramatically in the last few years – a direct result of the numerous cultural events we have been organising, practically on a weekly basis. The importance of accessibility is such that Gozo’s ability to attract more tourists mainly depends on the availability and efficiency of the transport needed to reach our shores. Without an adequate transport system, it is very difficult to elicit sustainable economic development.

This means that transport has to be able to cope with the flow of tourists without exceeding the carrying capacity of the island which is why the MV Nicolaos has joined the Gozo Channel fleet. It has taken a year of planning and hard work but we are now reaping the benefits. Gone are the long queues of people waiting to board at the Mġarr and Cirkewwa ferry terminals. Tourists, business people and citizens are now able to cross the channel in record time without having to plan hours ahead. Three ships are now focused on carrying passengers and cars and a fourth ferry is focused on transporting commercial vehicles, as well as supporting the regular passenger schedule.

Thanks to the fourth ferry, the statutory maintenance of all ships can be carried out with ease and without disrupting the flow of traffic between the islands. In its first month, the MV Nicolaos has made 280 trips between Malta and Gozo and since 14 June has ferried more than 51,000 passengers and over 17,250 vehicles. This ship has been commissioned for a an indefinite period until an international tender is issued by Gozo Channel Ltd to hire a ferry boat for a longer period of time. 


Our commitment

It has been confirmed by the Gozo Tourism Association and other constituted bodies that the fourth ferry has dramatically improved the flow of traffic and services between the islands.  It is definitely not a case of sitting on our laurels and, in fact, the Gozo Ministry is very keen on getting the fast ferry service up and running as soon as the appeal procedures make this possible.

We are also determined to provide a scheduled helicopter service, the preparatory work for which is ongoing and continuous. It has to be born in mind that international and EU regulations are more stringent than they were when the helicopter service was operating years ago. Throughout this entire process we strongly believe that – for safety and security purposes – such preparatory work is imperative.

Where all means of transport are concerned – by road, sea and air – digital connectivity is crucial for economic productivity. In this respect, we are in the process of laying down a second fibre optic cable on the seabed between Malta and Gozo. This ambitious project, planned to be completed within a year, will boost Gozo’s potential and encourage more businesses to set up shop on the island to provide more jobs in Gozo for Gozitans.

Together with the ongoing preparatory work for the permanent link, our commitment is all there to plan, consult and implement everything that is necessary in order to ensure that we can look ahead to the best times which – for Gozo too – are yet to come.

On a personal note, may I pay tribute to two respected Gozitans – Karmenu Buttigieg and Louis Refalo – who had represented Gozo in Parliament and who have recently passed on to a better life.  Everyone can vouch for the fact that, during their long years of service in the House, they gave of their best to the progress of people in Gozo.  I send my sincere condolences to both families.

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