The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: Shelving the tunnel, metro projects

Thursday, 11 August 2022, 09:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

The document put forward by the Malta Employers Association as the government prepares the budget for 2023 gives so much food for thought.

It offers myriad suggestions, but the one that stood out the most is its description of plans for the building of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo and that for an underground transport system as “airy fairy” projects which the government should shelve.

The money, according to the MEA, should be put to better use to bring the country’s finances back on track. The MEA is proposing that the funds are directed towards the country’s electricity distribution system, to rebuild the “outdated” drainage network and to concentrate on infrastructure for electric mobility. The government cannot ignore the fact that the population has risen by 25% in the last 10 years, adding on to the infrastructural burden.

The MEA’s recommendations are based on the fact that by the end of the year Malta’s debt to GDP ratio will reach the maximum which is allowed by the European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact – that is 60%. Only three years ago, Malta’s debt was 40%. The rapid increase was mostly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which pushed the government into taking action to save jobs.

The Malta-Gozo tunnel has been a topic of controversy for decades, whereas the metro system idea is a more recent addition to the country’s agenda. They will both take countless years to complete and will inevitably cost an arm and a leg.

What the MEA is saying that, given the prevailing circumstances, these two projects should not be a priority. There are more “pressing” infrastructural projects that deserve attention, and the government would be in the wrong to persist with the tunnel and metro ideas.

Whether the government intends to accept the suggestion made by the MEA remains to be seen. But what the MEA is saying should be given due consideration by the government.

If it will be discarding the MEA’s proposals, it should explain why it will persist with the tunnel and metro projects, and say why it believes that they are a necessity. It cannot just dismiss what the MEA is suggesting just because it has the comfort of a strong majority in Parliament.

The MEA is right to point out that, at this moment in time, there are other priorities that the government should see to, particularly given that the government’s debt has risen so sharply in the last three years.

In its document, the MEA says that the focus should be on “cutting wasteful government expenditure to bring finances back on track”. Let us not forget that Malta is still in the middle of its recovery from the pandemic, and it is highly unlikely that we will go back to pre-pandemic levels – in terms of government debt – anytime soon.

To go for projects like the tunnel and metro system – with costs that are likely to go beyond the original estimate and with deadlines that will probably not be met – Malta would be taking a big risk.

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