The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

Gozo budget and green credentials

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 20 October 2019, 09:38 Last update: about 25 days ago

“Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll know you what you value.”  - Joe Biden, former US Vice President 

 

The 2020 Budget presented by Finance Minister Professor Edward Scicluna this week is proof of the Labour Government’s ongoing commitment to empower, encourage and reward each and every citizen to reach greater economic heights.

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At the same time, wealth generated through entrepreneurship and innovation is being distributed with equity amongst all citizens, particularly the elderly and disadvantaged persons. It provides tangible solutions to environmental issues, strives to create a balance between work and leisure and is further proof of Labour’s long-term vision for a sustainable country that has the common good at heart.

 

Surplus and growth

This budget will cost more than €5 billion and it will the third year running budget with no tax hikes whatsoever. It is also the fifth one projected a surplus while the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2020 will drop to 40.4%. This surplus does not take into consideration the finances gained from the IIP scheme and is expected to be over and above an expected economic growth that should reach 4.3% in real terms.

The Labour Government’s successes are indeed phenomenal. Malta’s economic growth has doubled to €14 billion in the last seven years and unemployment has reached an historic record low placing Malta as the third most successful economy in the EU.

 

Gozo’s budget

Gozo is also benefitting from this economic boom. Minister Scicluna reiterated that Gozo has become a direct contributor to the national economy and is no longer considered to be a burden on the country’s finances. This is proof of the determination of the Gozo Ministry and the entrepreneurial spirit of us Gozitans. It shows that when given the tools, encouragement and opportunities, we come to the fore and succeed beyond all expectations in everything that we set our minds to do.

Our Prime Minister has made is clear that distribution of wealth needs to be sustainable and all those of goodwill will be rewarded for their hard work. The budget allocation for to the Gozo Ministry for 2020 is proof that hard work and the diligent sustainable use of public funds are well and truly deserving of a further injection of funds. From a total of €40.1 million in 2017, €56.8 in 2019 while the 2020 budget is allocating €67.4 million for Gozo - a substantial increase of 19% over last year.

 

Job creation

The list of incentives targeting Gozo is aimed at creating more jobs for Gozitans in Gozo by attracting new niches for increased economic activity. As an example, a fund has been set up for the coming year so that Gozo becomes a destination of excellence for conferences and international meetings. This measure aims at better utilisation of existing and upgraded amenities that can render the island as an ideal venue for international events. This follows the Film Fund introduced in last year's budget, valorising further Gozo scenic environment and historic sites.

All is meant to create more stable jobs in the hospitality and other sectors. We value the contribution given by the private sector and it will also continue to benefit from the Gozo Business Scheme and the Start-up tax credit for new and emerging SMEs will be further enhanced, thus encouraging more businesses to set up shop in Gozo.

 

Permanent link

It is also the aim of this Government to create a permanent link between the islands. This link will help Gozo’s economy flourish and will attract more Gozitan youths to work and settle down on the island. The underwater tunnel will translate into increased economic activity, better wages and equal opportunities for Gozitans who otherwise, would have no option but to settle on the mainland or start a new life abroad.

Last December, a pre-information notice was issued on the EU’s official journal and in the next few weeks the pre-qualification questionnaire for interested investors will also be launched. This questionnaire will stipulate necessary technical know-how and is aimed at investors and contractors who are interested in taking up this ambitious and ground-breaking mega-project.

 

Infrastructure

The 2020 budget will also include a €10 million allocation for road building and upgrades. A further €11 million from EU funds will go for the building of the reverse osmosis plant in Hondoq. Gozo will no longer need to rely on the submarine pipeline of Cirkewwa and it will ensure that the water table is not further depleted. 

The Nadur-Mgarr and the Victoria-Marsalforn roads will be built from scratch and ongoing works on 33 residential roads will be finalised by the end of 2020. A further 11 residential roads will also be reconstructed. A new health centre will be built in the next year and the St Joseph home for the elderly and people suffering from dementia will be completed.

All these measures, are over and above the list of incentives given through this Budget on a national scale. They will be of great benefit for Gozitan families and businesses so that Gozo will continue to flourish. Labour is committed to create wealth on equal footing for all its citizens – Maltese and Gozitan alike – with one goal in mind – to prosper and advance as one whole nation.

 

Greening the Islands

This week, I had the pleasure to address the Greening the Islands Conference in Palermo. This Conference discussed island dimensions of National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) and I explained the EcoGozo Strategy together with the green package announced in last Monday’s budget speech.

This Governments’ commitment to tackle environmental issues seriously and long-term is top of the agenda. Malta has developed its Draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) in line with the EU’s obligations and the Energy Union and Climate Action. The areas covered are energy security, internal energy market, energy efficiency, decarbonisation and research, innovation and competitiveness.

The Ministry for Gozo is addressing emissions by being partners in the implementation of the 2025 Master Plan related to de-carbonising Gozo under the Sustainable Multimodal Intelligent Transport Hubs Project known as SMITH’s Project. This will identify and set up local transport hubs and is aimed at removing the need of private cars by providing electric bus transport and encouraging electric car, bicycle, scooter and motor cycle sharing.

The Park and Ride facility at Ta’ Xhajma will reduce traffic to Mgarr Harbour and transport commuters from the Park and Ride to the Mgarr Passenger Terminal. The building will be green and self sustainable and will be complimented by a fully electric bus fleet. Another project part-financed by EMFF will see the fishing port area of Mgarr reorganized, upgraded and expanded and will address fishermen’s financial sustainability. More berthing space will reduce fuel wastage and improve fishermen’s flexibility and operational efficiency.

 

Efficiency and sustainability

My Ministry has also obtained EU funding to rehabilitate valleys and restore rubble walls across the island. This programme will create or restore dams to provide irrigation water for farmers and maintain or create new wild life habitats. It will also help mitigate soil erosion and restore natural water coursing hindered by debris and accumulated waste. The initial budget allocated for this initiative is €10 million and compliments the New Water Initiative that gives treated second class water free to farmers for irrigation purposes.

The Government’s plans for an environmentally sustainable country are tangible and long-term. Indeed, this budget will bring us closer to our goal. It is my aim to transform Gozo into an ecologically friendly, clean and energy-efficient island. Gozo will serve as an example on how hard work, careful planning, determination and a diligent management of funds can create an ecologically sustainable country for the benefit of future generations.

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