The Malta Independent 20 October 2019, Sunday

Gozo on Independence Day

Timothy Alden Thursday, 26 September 2019, 16:25 Last update: about 23 days ago

Yesterday I was having a coffee with two Gozitans and two Maltese in Ljubljana, Slovenia. We were fresh out of the life-changing youth exchange in the Slovenian countryside, Let’s Grow. Sitting together as part of our trip back to Malta on Independence Day, we asked ourselves the following questions: What does Independence Day mean for Gozo? How independent do Gozitans really feel? 

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Throughout the exchange, we did our best to make sure that Gozo had a voice. We respected its individual, beautiful identity as something distinct, just as we explained and celebrated the differences on the island of Malta itself. Our Gozitans were in the same position as the Basque girl who attended the event with the Spanish group. So, how do we now ensure that Gozo has a voice in Malta as well, and not just at a youth exchange?

Currently, many Gozitans feel that they have no voice at all when it comes to how their island is run. Their five Members of Parliament put party interests before Gozitan interests. Much has been promised to Gozo over the years, and the failure to deliver has led to many Gozitans giving up on empty words. One example is the Gozo Tunnel; seen by many who commute to Malta for work to be a desperate solution with no alternative. While the Association for Gozitan Employees believes that the fourth ferry has rendered the tunnel questionable, it is clear many Gozitans are now cynical.

Yet, if the money were invested in brand new ferries and other transport solutions, then such a tunnel would not be necessary. The problem is that the Gozitan people have lost faith in the political process, so when a quick-fix solution is offered, after having had to wait decades, then of course many will take it. Having said that, the Gozitans with me were under the impression that only a minority of Gozitans support the tunnel. Even the Gozitans who want the tunnel do not want Gozo to turn into another Malta.

How then do we restore faith in Gozitans in the political process? How do we protect them from becoming a colony of Malta? We must give them that sorely missed voice to decide things for themselves. Just as with local councils, it is no use having representatives if their loyalty is not to the locality they are supposed to serve. The five Members of Parliament for Gozo are not enough. We need Gozo to have more autonomy. For example, Gozo should be able to decide on planning applications in Gozo, or at least have veto powers to fight against blocks of ugly concrete flats and other insults and offences. Gozo should have the power to fight against exploitation by Malta and corrupt businessmen.

Partit Demokratiku supported the vote in Parliament to set up the Gozo Regional Development Authority. Nonetheless, the public consultation period for this entity attracted only eight comments and no meetings were called for by stakeholders or the public. The public consultation period was no consultation at all. Are we to believe only eight in our country have an opinion on Gozitan autonomy? Once again, Gozo has no voice, even when it comes to major changes to how it is run.

We need a real Gozitan local government, with the power to protect Gozitan interests and put Gozo before party loyalty. Only then can we consider that all of our country – both Malta and Gozo – are free and independent. Otherwise, Gozo is merely a colony of Malta.

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