INSITE’s Michelle Grech who attended today’s GUG debate addressing ‘The future of work in Gozo.’ picks out some salient points from the whole discussion.
Gozo is not officially ‘a Region’ in EU terms
Christian Zammit, the current chief of staff at the Ministry for Gozo said that under the current legislature the Regional Statistics (Gozo Office), a sub-section of the National Statistics Office, has been (finally) officially established. The result is a document titled ‘Gozo in Figures’. Apparently, this statistics office would have been very useful during Malta’s EU-accession negotiations, so as to officially establish Gozo as a region in EU terms which is needed for Gozo to be in the running of contesting for EU funds autonomously. The result of such, is that only 10% of EU funds are directed towards Gozo.
Arnold Cassola, AD’s leader insisted that Gozo can never be classified as a region, and a candidate to funds without the correct structure, that is, a democratic elected governmental body within the region.
Ryan Mercieca, an upcoming PN candidate for the general election, said that recognition firstly needs to take place within the Local Government. When establishing a future plan for Gozo, the decisions need to be taken from Gozitans, within Gozo.
No work-opportunities in Gozo/Brain and skill drain
Ryan Mercieca emphasized that work in Gozo should mean real career prospects in Gozo. This does not mean blue-collar jobs or cheap labour. Rather, it means identifying the future industries to be set-up in Gozo for prospective students, so that they would be able to choose career paths by which they would be employable in Gozo. Gozitans themselves need to be encouraged to invest in Gozo as entrepreneurs.
A challenge to this is Gozo’s double insularity: it is an island of another island, and an example by Christian Zammit illustrates this technological inaccessibility.
The Institute of Medicine and Science (BARTS), needed a sufficient technological infrastructure. Because of this need Gozo shall finally have a second fibre-optic cable. One can understand how the lack thereof was a substantial demotivation to any tech-service industry seeking to set their base in Gozo.
Another challenge is physical inaccessibility. Arnold Cassola remarked that it is quite sad that we are still discussing the possibility of a fast ferry service. Of course, the tunnel-debate was discussed, an idea which has been debated since the 1960s. Moreover, there is no functioning cruise liner terminal.
Environment vs. Economic Progress - Can the co-exist?
Arnold Cassola argued that it is a fact that from a marketing point of view, Gozo has been positioned as the virgin, ecological island and this has driven plenty of tourist traffic. It is different from Malta, and these differences are what make it what it is. This is also the reason why plenty of Gozitans prefer Gozo to Malta. So should it be in the Gozitans hands to decide, they seem to have a very important decision to make: Which direction do they want Gozo to go? Do they want the permanent link, or their island to be a base for agri-tourism? Are we capable of developing Gozo’s economy without jeopardising its beautiful characteristics?
Honestly I believe this debate put all the eggs in one basket. There can be economic progress without the permanent link between Malta and Gozo. Should there be enough jobs in Gozo, locals would not seek to commute in the first place. There are various ways in which industries can be established in Gozo’s economy without being a detriment to the environment. It would be blasphemous to ruin our film-industry worthy picturesque views, and crystal clear waters. In fact, the success of Gozitan cooperatives’ agri-tourism products (and it’s higher standing when compared to that of mainland Malta), the profits which come with Gozo being a destination for short holidays, and better roads are testament to this. We would be solving a problem, and creating many more. Why have we been speaking of a permanent link as from the 60s and still lack a fast-ferry service? What about meeting half way and taking up seriously the proposal of setting up of a new harbour situated in central Malta?
At time it appears we are attempting to run before we can walk, and this can be the reason of stagnation. Short-term feasible plans whose impacts are continuously measured so as to assess the positive and negative impacts (and the power to halt or reverse them should not be the case) seems to be the step-forward.
You see, this is a mesh of a variety of political parties’ representatives ideas and comments. It actually makes sense when deconstructing it for the partisan noise. To me, this is real Gozo politics. We all happen to be pulling the same rope, let’s not forget this.