Gozo... what future?
There has always been a difference in the growth rates and standards of living of Malta and Gozo. The reason for this inequality has usually been that Gozo is smaller than Malta. But this is not the whole truth. Historically, there were many factors which have hampered Gozo's development.
From time immemorial, Gozo was seen as an appendage to Malta. Administratively, Gozo was treated as such by senior civil servants coming to Gozo to inspect what was happening here from time to time. The decisions about all aspects of life, whether it was education, health, road works or employment, were taken in Malta in a patriarchal manner without any sensitivity to the real needs of the islanders. Gozo was governed by remote control.
But the major factor that contributed to this disparity in the economic and social development of Gozo was the transport between the two islands. This was kept to a bare minimum and, before it improved, Gozo didn't see any social or commercial progress. In other words Gozo was marginalised and was regarded in Malta as the backyard or beyond. Sea transport has helped Gozo to gain parity with, though not similarity to, Malta by reducing regional imbalances but also strengthening identity. Improved transport has facilitated and increased the opportunities in Gozo.
Politicians talk of Gozo as if Gozitans owe their living to them. Promises are made in every Budget and in political speeches before general elections. The projects mentioned in the last Budget, mainly projects funded by the EU, are very welcome. These have been promised for quite a while now. It is up to the Gozo Ministry to see that these are finished in good time and to the required standards. This is a tall order and requires lots of responsibility. Future projects using funds from the EU need to be properly planned and not carried out hurriedly.
In the meantime, certain urgent measures need to be taken and improvements made to allevate the present dire situation in the tourism sector. Too much has already been said in this regard. The closure of a number of hotels in Gozo is already a problem in itself as it resulted in unemployment for many.
The air link between the two islands is another important issue that needs to be decided on in the near future without further delay. So far the weather has been kind but it is not the first time that Gozo has been completely isolated because of no helicopter service and no sea transport due to bad weather conditions. Tour operators are reluctant to sell Gozo in winter. This is the simple truth. This problem has to be solved.
It is hoped that the sea passenger terminal at Mgarr will be completed by March - as promised. Projects planned for Gozo by the private sector should not be harmful to the environment and we must preserve what we haven't lost so far since whatever we lose now will be lost forever.
Gozitans would like to see more jobs available in Gozo, mainly in the tourism and IT sectors, improving the tourist product, completion of road works and solving the traffic problem in Victoria.
Sites for the building of a golf course in Gozo have also been suggested by MEPA. One should also study possible sites for the building of yacht marinas. This is how a reawakening in Gozo will be brought about. But all this needs careful planning and a very good dose of political will.
Gozo, as an island region, is supposed to be given priority in conformity with the regional policies of the EU. The €29 million that are promised for projects in Gozo need to be taken seriously and it is up to us that not a single euro is lost. We must be the guardians of what we already enjoy. We have to work hard to keep what we already have and insist that new facilities and services are introduced in Gozo.
It is a shame that Gozitans need to travel to Malta to obtain certain services which before they used to get here but not anymore now. Most Gozitans are not impressed by any Budget promises; a sea transportation change is needed before they will be convinced. They are a gritty lot and hardworking by nature.
If they are given incentives they know how to exchange them with production and good results. Promising Gozitans a better future has always been on the agenda of politicians since they know that the Gozo has played a decisive role in determining who wins elections.
And, both parties know this! We must make sure that what is ours we will get. No one else knows better what our needs are. Gozitans must have a bigger role in planning their future. We are not a simple electoral district but an island region with its particular needs.