The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

In safe hands

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 12 July 2020, 08:38 Last update: about 25 days ago

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”– Pablo Picasso

June turned the corner and we are now in the second week of July. Time flies and life goes on. The lifting of restrictions due to Covid-19 has been cautious, gradual and studied. In general, most of us have adhered to the recommendations given by our experts and we are gradually transitioning into the new-normal.

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The United Nations framework for the immediate socio-economic response to the Covid crisis warns that 'The Covid-19 pandemic is far more than a health crisis: it is affecting societies and economies at their core. Assessing impacts of the pandemic crisis on societies, economies and vulnerable groups is fundamental to inform and tailor the responses of governments and partners to recover from the crisis and ensure that no one is left behind in this effort. Development trajectories in the long-term will be affected by the choices countries make now and the support they receive." 

Solid foundations

Let us be frank: as a nation we have risen to the occasion and have succeeded in curbing the ravaging effects of this virus with flying colours. Our experts gauged and reacted well before most other countries, with a comprehensive and strategic plan in place. When the virus did hit, we were well prepared. Our socio-economic response to the pandemic's effects was swift and no stone was left unturned. We have managed to utilise our human and economic resources to the max for the benefit of every citizen. Overall, therefore, Malta and Gozo have fared well both economically and socially - thanks to this government's timely response and the solid economic foundations built over the last eight years.

As a Gozitan, my interest in how Gozo has fared particularly in the economic sector is top of my agenda. Last week, during the 8th meeting of the Permanent Committee for Gozo Affairs, the economic impact of Covid-19 and the way forward were discussed in detail. Anthony David Gatt and Brian Camilleri from Malta Enterprise (ME) gave a comprehensive presentation on the incentives for Gozitan businesses.  The findings are real facts that erased allegations by certain PN representatives that Gozo's businesses were not given the attention they deserved by the Government. 

Gozo's resilience

In the last few years, Gozo has enjoyed an economic boom the likes of which was never experienced before. From a burden, Gozo has become a net contributor to the national economy. This is all thanks to this Labour's determination to give Gozo priority and special attention. We welcomed all the incentives, investments, infrastructural works and connectivity improvements with open arms.

The typical Gozitan entrepreneurial spirit came to the fore and the majority of the population grasped all the opportunities offered. In a short span of time our island's economy has flourished. It is a shining example of how team spirit and genuine love for our island can work miracles. During my tenure as Gozo Minister I experienced first-hand what good intentions and joint efforts can do. Our island has transformed itself from a chrysalis into a vibrant and colourful butterfly ready to soar high as soon as the opportunity arose.

This transformation has not gone unnoticed. Labour has and still is placing Gozo on top of the national agenda. The meeting with Malta Enterprise has shown that there will be additional incentives for Gozo to roam further afield post-Covid and I am sure that we will yet again rise to the occasion.

Preferential incentives

Change is important in all aspects of life - without change and innovation life stagnates.  Whilst Gozo is at par with Malta in industry and professional services, the most hard-hit sectors during the pandemic were accommodation, food services and wholesale/retail trade. These are the mainstay of the island so it is natural that they have suffered the most. Under the Micro-invest scheme, Gozo received preferential treatment due to its double insularity and therefore, Gozo-based industries received a maximum of €2,500 compared to €2,000 for Malta-based SMEs.

Our Parliamentary Committee noted how Malta Enterprise provided data collected from the Wage Supplement scheme. Applications by the diverse sectors in Gozo were submitted by 1,486 entities that covered 3,843 employees. The total amount disbursed by the Labour Government up till May 2020 was of 6,738,619 euros.

Domestic tourism

The Government's stimulus through the voucher scheme was intended to mitigate the adverse effect on the island's economy due to the slump in tourism during the pandemic. The idea is that a number of vouchers awarded to people living in Malta, will be spent in Gozo. It is obvious that people may still be averse to holidaying abroad and will therefore cross over to Gozo. MV Nicolaos is already back in service, complementing our Gozo Channel fleet with success.

Over the past few weeks we have welcomed a considerable number of visitors with ease thanks to the extra trips made possible by the fourth ferry. I am proud to have been instrumental for this addition to the fleet. Whilst it is a fact that domestic tourism could never replace tourists coming over from abroad, the expenditure generated from domestic tourism will help keep Gozitan businesses afloat.

Another opportunity

Digital and remote work is another potential opportunity for Gozo. During Covid-19 many businesses have experienced first-hand the benefits of remote work. Gozitan workers have benefitted immensely and it has improved their quality of life no end. They had the opportunity to enjoy their island and spend quality time with loved ones and friends. Travel and time restrictions for once were at a minimum and they took full advantage of this situation with good effect.  This trend will be further encouraged in the years to come as a catalyst that pushes this new way of productivity to the fore. Gozo has a lot to offer particularly to foreigners who wish to set base on the island.

The old world charm, digital and infrastructural connectivity and the local scene are conductive of this type of work and would suit people from all walks of life. Whoever wishes to lead a relaxed and tranquil life away from the madding crowds, would find that Gozo is the ideal place. Practically nowhere is too far and linking to the outside world is a mere click away.

Our route to success

I am positive that Gozo will soon be back on its feet. While others are still struggling to undo their grassroots' choice of leader, our compact Government moves on with further measures that benefit our island. We will carry on where we have left pre-Covid with greater determination, looking forward to innovative ways of keeping our people's well-being sustainable.

Indeed, Labour’s plan for Gozo is realistic and forward-looking. It is up to us leave no stone unturned in our quest to better our lives and leave behind a legacy of adaptability to change and ensure a better future.

 

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