The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

The short-term Gozitan haven

Peter Agius Wednesday, 24 November 2021, 08:03 Last update: about 10 days ago

Speaking for the people requires us to listen before, question and understand realities. I have always mistrusted those who speak too much without taking the time to understand and while politics requires us to speak out, we must always keep in mind that listening and touching realities on the ground remains paramount if one is to represent the changes needed for society. 

For these reasons, since taking the leap in politics as a candidate for the European elections I made it a point to visit places. From workshops to childcare centres, factories and greenhouses to households, I did my tour. 

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Realities in Bulebel and San Gwann may be similar; realities in Gozo however bear a significant difference. The island’s double insularity characterises and conditions most of the needs on the ground. Understanding Gozo and its needs therefore requires a double effort than that employed in Malta. For this reason, I have made it a point to dedicate at least one day a week in my political commitment to visit realities on the ground in Gozo.

What follows is a sincere rendition of a phenomenon that all Gozitans know very intimately but which is largely invisible to the rest of the country. The worst feeling I get when I speak to Gozitans and understand the realities on the ground is that at present, our country is allowing Gozo to swell into a ferocious competition between variants of short-termisms. From the job market to development and the environment to the state of the public utilities, you can rest assured that current Labour handling is opting for short-term feel good stimuli while at best neglecting and in most cases prejudicing the longer-term needs of Gozo as a sustainable island rife with opportunity.

Let me try to explain the above through four small incidents. Make no mistake, these are not isolated cases. I am choosing these as sincere illustrations of a prevailing societal phenomenon. The first and most frequent reality one encounters in Gozo is that of persons being called (personally) by the Minister with a job offer they never asked for. In one case I encountered on Saturday it goes as follows, the person in question had just completed an MCAST course, he was signing a contract with a local business for a junior office contract. Just before that, he got a call from Clint Camilleri offering him a self-employed contract for 830 euro a month as a supervisor on road maintenance works. The private undertaking remained without the hands needed as the employee was poached by Clint.

Were this to be a competition between public and private employers for higher conditions and higher wages this would have some sort of longer-term added value. It is not. While the private employer was intent on investing on the employee with additional training and future promotions in conditions and responsibilities, Clint’s offer has only one objective – a vote for a contract with no questions asked. Then you end up with a Cittadella with 140 employees and small beaches with 20 beach attendants. 140, 160, hundreds of salaries, or rather, self-employed contracts, for which you and me have to fit the bill. Clint Camilleri asked for another 8 million euros for that alone next year. 

The other grand short-termism in Gozo relates to the ongoing urban development. Quaint picturesque villages bordered with prickly pear fields are now being engulfed in 5 storey high blocks of apartments. Our planning rules cannot handle the ongoing massacre. They cannot make provision for the need to ensure aesthetic harmony between century old dwellings and what falls out of ‘Urban Conservation Area’. We are stuck between extremes. Either you can’t touch a single stone in the old part, or you can build 20 metres of bricks next door. The result in some cases is appalling. Unless the contractor himself has some respect for village aesthetics and neighbours (a lot of them do try) the rules and the authorities will be on no solace to the rest.

The third and most worrying case of Labour’s Gozitan short-termism relates to public health. A few weeks ago I was in Xewkija visiting a couple who were baby-sitting their grand-children. One of them was telling me how the ENT department in the Steward’s General Hospital has now closed down. Her vital link to having her hearing aid services is now cut off. When asked, the hospital told them to find a private outlet, which in this case is only open in Malta.

ENT closed off, eye specialist on leave with no back up, no surgeon on call for emergency needs. This is the reality of public health in Gozo right now. Anyone visiting with a chest-pain is sent off to Malta. Virtually all cases where the public expects a service of a hospital, rather than a GP, have to be referred to Malta. For emergency cases that might involve risks to life and limb as the use of the Helicopter service is kept to extreme cases and, in any case, the transfer to the Xewkija heliport and to Mater Dei will involve four other transfers from ambulance to the final hospital bed.  

To think that we are forking out 69 million euro for the Vitals contract next year. Will the Gozitan Labour representatives have the cheek to vote for that budgetary allocation in the knowledge that the current Vitals/Steward arrangement is robbing their constituents from the security of a reliable health service in Gozo? Oh wait, they can surely try to counter that with another short-term offer their voters cannot refuse…

 

 

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Peter Agius, PN spokesperson and MEP candidate

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