The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Gozo: Let’s walk the talk, Prime Minister!

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 19 May 2024, 08:39 Last update: about 26 days ago

Since my earliest memories – almost sixty years – when elections loom, government officials intensify their outreach efforts to woo us, the Gozitans.

As a distinct district, Gozo consistently avoided gerrymandering. Now, it is irrelevant with the absolute or relative majority of first count votes determining the overall winner of the election. Currently, the parliament has 79 members – 43 from PL, one independent aligned with the government, and 35 from PN. With an eight-seat majority, the government can afford to consider Gozitans as passive constituents. Among the three Gozitan cabinet ministers, only the Gozo minister prioritises Gozitans over their departmental interests. 

Therefore, the prime minister, when visiting, promises his Gozo followers anything but ends up disappointing them. They attend only to mark their presence, disinterested in his promises. Now, let’s address the recent pressing issue: the transfer of Gozo General Hospital to Vitals. The government paid Vitals, and later Steward, €400 million in taxpayer money. They had to build a new hospital in Gozo, but nothing happened. In March 2023, speaking in Xaghra, Gozo, Abela promised no harm to patients or staff from the court’s annulment of the Vitals/Steward contracts because of “fraud”. He committed to building a new hospital this term. Meanwhile, Gozitans needing medical care must wait and hope.

In September 2021, at a conference in Ghajnsielem themed ‘Renewing Gozo and the environment in which we live’, Prime Minister Abela declared Gozo would receive a record €162 million in European funds for sustainable urban projects by 2027, aiming to improve the quality of life for Gozitans. However, after almost three years, there is still no evidence of these European funds being utilised. It’s important to note that this announcement came before the 2022 General Election.

On Saturday, March 12, 2022, just before the election, Prime Minister Robert Abela promised that a new Labour government would construct a breakwater at Marsalforn Bay. Two years have passed, and this project remains absent from the Prime Minister’s agenda. Meanwhile, the Gozo museum and the Gozo sports centre are both delayed and exceeding their budgetary allocations.

On Sunday, April 28, 2024, Robert Abela pledged Gozo would become the new standard for sustainable development in the country, after facing years of criticism that unchecked construction was diminishing the island’s charm. Perhaps the Prime Minister could have taken some time to visit Xlendi and Marsalforn.

It would have been more beneficial if he had clarified to the audience and the wider Gozitan community exactly what he envisioned for “sustainable development”. Recently in Parliament, PN member Dr Adrian Delia offered a strong critique of the ‘Sustainable Development’ Annual Report for 2022. This presented an excellent opportunity for the Prime Minister to confront the realities of sustainable development. In this session, Adrian Delia thoroughly discredited the report, demonstrating that sustainable development is merely an unattainable ideal for this government. Thus, the Prime Minister seems to expect that utopian promises of sustainable development will easily persuade Gozitans, suggesting that better times are ahead for Gozo. Yet, we already see purported examples of sustainable development in Gozo, such as in Marsalforn, Xlendi, the Gozo ferries, and the state of the roads.

As the June 8 elections draw near, Prime Minister announced to party supporters on May 4, 2024, at an event in Xewkija, that the government aims to “bring gardens to Gozo”. He assured the party faithful that with their continued trust in the Labour Party, the government would introduce gardens to the community. This pledge strikes a discordant note, however, as residents have recently protested against the removal of trees along Marsalforn road.

The Prime Minister conveniently overlooked the fact that NGOs and the public strongly criticised the Marsalforn Road plans. This proposal, which has sparked significant backlash, involves straightening and widening the existing road, leading to the takeover of 10,000 square metres of agricultural land and the destruction of hundreds of trees, along with iconic landscapes.

However, the Prime Minister failed to mention or address several other issues, including the Victoria ring road and the bypass to Gharb and Ta’ Pinu, the severe parking shortages in Victoria, the encroachment of pavements by catering outlets, and notably, the invasion of Pjazza San Gorg. This last issue has notably restricted access for the Giorgiani to their beloved Golden Basilica.

The Prime Minister also discussed improvements in air and sea connectivity between the two islands, highlighting how the introduction of the fast ferry and a fourth ship had significantly enhanced the route between Malta and Gozo. He mentioned that the government is considering the construction of a fourth ship that would be more environmentally friendly and produce lower emissions.

Indeed, I concur the fourth ferry has reduced the waiting times, which previously exceeded two hours in the scorching summer sun. However, this improvement came only after a two-year delay and the wet-leasing of a 34-year-old Greek ferry Nikolaus. The former finance minister had stated that the government could not afford an extra ferry for Gozitans and that this ferry was not a government priority. Evidently, it still isn’t a priority.

The Prime Minister also mentioned the fast ferry service, glossing over how long Gozitans had longed for such a service. Initially, the government at Castille pursued different plans and awarded the contract to a dubious company. After court litigation, the government eventually awarded the contract to two operators, three years behind schedule. This episode is now history, yet it illustrates a pattern where the Prime Minister and his associates prioritise the interests of their allies before considering the needs of the Gozitans.

At the closing of the Labour Party’s general conference, launching the slogan for upcoming MEP and local council elections: ‘Is-Saħħa lill-Maltin’ (strength to the Maltese), he perhaps inadvertently excluded ‘L-Ghawdxin’ (Gozitans).

What truly astonishes me is that despite having three Gozitan ministers and other prominent government figures, none have ever advocated for an additional ferry. The underlying reason is straightforward: all of them benefit from priority boarding, allowing them to skip the queue whenever they please. They even enjoy the privilege of having the ferry wait for them to board, disregarding both the schedule and the commitments of other travellers.

The Prime Minister also mentioned the government’s commitment to establishing an air link between the two islands. Based on recent experiences, this proposal initially seemed unlikely to proceed. However, a recent report from a consultant of theirs has declared it workable, leading them to promote it as an opportunity for drone testing.

On his trips to Gozo, the Prime Minister may have travelled the challenging and neglected Manikata road and surely boarded any of the ferries—Gaudos, Malita, or Ta’ Pinu—and passed through the Mgarr terminal provided by the previous PN administration. Ahead of the upcoming June 8 elections, the Prime Minister presented Gozitans with a choice: “You have a choice on which road to take. The Opposition’s approach is to dismantle everything and revert to stagnation, because that’s what they did when they were in power, and everyone knows the consequences of those actions.” Unbelievable!

 

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