The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Gozitans have a right to decide their future

Sunday, 12 September 2021, 07:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Emmanuel J. Galea

The Gozo tunnel project is still on government's agenda.

On April 2019 the Gozo tunnel project received the backing from the Nationalist Party with Parliament approving a motion which was put forward by Ministers Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana. PN Chris Said stated: "This is not a process of just one legislature but a process that already ran through three legislatures and will keep coming up on future legislatures. These future legislatures, at least two, will surely be run by the present government.

Now there are cracks in this unstable agreement. The Opposition always insisted that they were not going to approve the project unless all reports regarding the feasibility and safety of the project are presented for everyone's information. The latest twist in this saga is that the Opposition is now promoting a referendum for all Gozo residents before going forward with the project. Government has not commented on the PN's proposal, which may be interpreted that they were caught on the wrong foot and they are still searching a vote-catching reaction.

To justify the need for the Tunnel government usually refers to a skewed 2018 survey by statistician Vincent Marmara who then found that 83& in Malta and Gozo opted for the tunnel. This survey is outdated and does not reflect the present situation; besides it was driven by a political agenda to spin opinion in favour of the tunnel. This survey was held on September 2018 at the end of a summer season and when Maltese were still visiting Gozo in great numbers. Marmara failed to point out that, at the time, there were only three ferries operating and the waiting time of more than two hours in the scorching sun was the norm. I experienced this nightmare several times.

The Labour Party was re-elected in 2017 and since 2013 their manifesto promoted a fourth ferry, a passenger fast lane and a fast passenger ferry to Valletta. Of all these promises nothing was yet implemented when Marmara carried out his survey. Matters were complicated further when the Sa Maison cargo service was suspended to make way for a yacht marina, so all the commercial vehicles started using also the already fully functioning Cirkewwa terminal.

A survey was held by Malta Today in May 2019 claiming: "Support for Gozo tunnel still running high." Strangely enough the survey sounded the respondents regarding the tunnel only whereas the issue was accessibility between Malta and Gozo. Malta Today stated that support for the tunnel linking Gozo and Malta has remained stable with 60.9% of respondents in favour of the tunnel. At that time frustration was running high among Gozitans so it stands to reason that given no other option related to improvement of accessibility, Gozitans opted for the tunnel so much, that 72.5% were in favour while for other districts in Malta the average was about 60%.

I have to emphasise here, that up to June 2019, government was passive on the promises that they boasted about in their manifesto. The Gozo Business Chamber (GBC), which pretends to stand up for commercial enterprises in Gozo, did not comment on this and humbly requested government to provide an alternative berthing place; at that time the GBC considered this as a blessing in disguise to push further for the tunnel project.

Things started to change later in June 2019 when the fourth ferry, the Greek Nikolaus, a 32-year-old museum piece lacking accessibility for persons with disabilities, was introduced. Still this ferry mitigated the waiting times that were still increasing to board the ferry, especially during weekends.

In the absence of other surveys, I commissioned Misco to hold a survey in March 2020. Unfortunately, when I had the results, the Covid restrictions were introduced and I archived these results for a later date.

I feel that now is the appropriate time to publish these results and even more, last July I commissioned Misco once again for a similar survey but with more amendments, requesting   the public opinion on the fast passenger service to Valletta, which started operating during June.

All respondents are Gozitan residents.

Do you agree with the planned tunnel development between Malta and Gozo?

Year

No (%)

Yes (%)

Neutral (%)

Respondents

Mar 2020

48.6

42.2

9.2

405

Jul 2021

51.6

42.8

4.6

401

Another survey held by the TOM last August confirmed again that Gozo residents were against the tunnel with a total of 41.5% against and 37.7% in favour.

During a PN press conference the PN spokesman Chris Said said: "Once necessary studies are carried out, a Nationalist government would consult the Gozitan people on the proposed permanent link."

A referendum was not mentioned before and government is not in favour of any referendum.

This is the government who was elected on the promise of upholding democracy and respect for the voters' opinions. In practice this is far from the truth; government has not even acknowledged the right to respect Gozitans' opinions.

The GBC did not comment on the referendum in their budget proposals. They merely mentioned a permanent link. The Gozo Tourism Association referred to the revival of the air link between Malta and Gozo, again ignoring the issue of the tunnel.

This air link was mentioned by electoral PN candidate Alex Borg, who is taking us back to the times of the Heliport, built by a PN government. The facts are staring us in the face and with the unsustainable level of tourism in Gozo, based on previous reports, an air link is only possible if heavily subsidised by government.

Now this referendum raises another point of contention - there have already been comments by influential persons that this referendum should be held for Malta and Gozo. I personally feel that this is an issue regarding Gozo's identity and so Gozitans have the absolute right to decide their own destiny for future generations. This has been clearly indicated in the surveys.

 

According to the surveys held

Do you think a referendum should be held regarding the Gozo tunnel?

Year

No (%)

Yes (%)

Neutral (%)

Mar 2020

20.8

69.4

9.8

Jul 2021

20.4

73.7

5.9

 

Do you think a referendum should be held among BOTH Maltese and Gozitans or Gozo residents only?

Year

Maltese and Gozitans (%)

Gozo residents (%)

Neutral (%)

Mar 2020

32.1

56.7

11.2

Jul 2021

39.4

58.9

1.8

 

The underlying issue is that accessibility between Malta and Gozo has improved especially now with the introduction of the passenger fast ferry.

Way back in August the PN held a press conference, when PN spokesman Dr Ellis undermined the issue for the tunnel when he proposed two other ferries. Dr Ellis missed the golden opportunity to propose a fast vehicle/passenger ferry to Valletta. This would really render the tunnel a whiter than white elephant. Even more it is about time that all the ferry services should be liberalised and safeguarding the Gozo Channel, under the umbrella of a monopoly, is long overdue, similar to proposing the tunnel to be built and financed on a purely commercial basis.

Gozo's identity is under serious threat by the issue of the Gozo tunnel and government should respect the will and democratic right of Gozo residents to decide themselves on their destiny and the future of Gozo.

 


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