The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Three Gozitan Republics

Peter Agius Wednesday, 9 June 2021, 06:51 Last update: about 10 days ago

As a candidate for the European Parliament Elections I made it a point to understand the realities on the ground before attempting to represent the people handling that reality. That is all the more important in Gozo where double insularity calls for double attention to local needs. For this reason, I made it a point to visit Gozo as regularly as possible and speak daily to our Gozitan friends on issues and solutions thereto.

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This week I was there again, this time on home visits with candidates for the upcoming general election. To get there I took the fast Ferry. In my direct experience, the service is efficient and timely. It provides another option to reach Gozo bypassing an hour and half of road rage from Ċirkewwa to Valletta. The service could have been anticipated by many years. Government’s role in that should have been to simply lift any prohibitions to market access. Instead, it took three failed tenders and four long years to finally produce the outcome it set out to avoid in the first place - a situation with two competing operators for the same novel market. I wish them both good luck, for the sake of Gozitan accessibility.

You land with the fast Ferry in Mġarr in 45 minutes. For a minute, it feels like a step towards modernity for the island. And yet, once you delve deeper you realise that matters remain stuck in the ways of yesteryear. With three Gozitan Ministers hailing from the island in Robert Abela’s cabinet, the electioneering moves are turning the island in three distinct republics which in many regards undermine each other in their uncompromising quest for political support.

While private investment struggles with double insularity on a daily basis, the three republics add up to their troubles by poaching skilled workers with job offers in public service. In some cases, the same person is offered an improved contract by another of the republics in a bidding contest of poaching between republics.

Unique in Europe, where all Governments try to encourage employment in the private sector, Gozo presents an altogether contrary phenomenon where Government is so needy that it has to poach employees which make private business go round in Gozo, thereby stalling the economic wheel. Is it a case of amazing workloads? No, it is rather a case of four gardening workmen staring at a Petunia being re-potted by a fifth, the newcomer sent by ‘il-Perit’.

To think that so much can be done in this island. A unique haven of peace, history and natural beauty, if only we set out to do this with noble intent. Earlier administrations have tried to push the concept of an eco-Gozo. The idea highlighted the need to preserve Gozo’s characteristics which make it worth a visit or worth private investment.

EU funding can provide significant impetus to investment in the Green economy in Gozo. Suffice to say that the EU Money for pandemic recovery – up to 327 million euros for Malta -is set to dedicate a chunky 37% to Green investments. But is Gozo right now charting the way to receive and deploy that EU funding?

Recent cases of EU funding mismanagement give a worrying answer to that. A 2 million euro EU grant for the Gozo Ministry to purchase three solar powered buses in 2019 ended up in misuse as the buses gather dust in a scrapyard in Xagħra. I visited the yard myself with Gozitan MP Chris Said to see to my dismay the million euros investment left to rot. The only thing green with that investment are the wild nettles surrounding the buses which are already fading off as they are left in the scorching sun for the last two years. Is this our version of the Green economy? Does it imperatively have to include favours for votes for the three republics of Justyne, Refalo and ‘il-Perit’ for anything to happen in Gozo?

Another village, another clash of the Gozitan republics, another wasted opportunity. 3.6 million in EU funds were allocated for a Gozo Museum in the heart of Rabat. A good idea to bolster Gozo’s cultural appeal and diversify its touristic offer. And yet, what was good in theory, with EU funds ready to deploy, suffered the clash of the three republics in practice with the project initially pushed by Minister Refalo being discarded by Minister Caruana and then by Minister Camilleri. For what use is it to work on something to then have to share the credit? Right? The three republics make no compromise. Their intentions leave no room for diddle-dadding. We either get votes from the other republics or we do nothing at all.

I think that Gozitans deserve better than that. They deserve good management with Gozo’s welfare truly at heart. Most of them know well that expanding the ranks of public service for votes may satisfy enough individual cases to elect someone in Parliament, but risks deep damage to the economic and societal advancement of the island. Finally, it may boil down to that, do we care enough about Gozo to swap individual gains with long-term benefits for all Gozitans?

 

Peter Agius, MEP candidate

[email protected]

 

 

 

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