The challenges facing the Gozitan economy have hardly attracted any reference in the 2022 budget, much less the solutions. Apart from an attempt to modernize the heliport facilities in Xewkija, some micro measures for first-time home buyers and the repair of rubble walls, there have been no new initiatives that reflect any kind of upgrade. strategic plan for the economy of Gozo.
Last July, the Gozo Regional Development Authority published a strategic document entitled A Shared Vision for Gozo. It has proposed a large number of projects to strengthen the Gozitan economy and make people’s lives more lively. The government seems to have given little importance to the recommendations of this high-level document, which was primarily aimed at promoting a discussion on the future economic direction of the island.
The most discussed issue related to investment in Gozo remains the construction of a tunnel between the two islands. Some progress has been made at the beginning of the project, which appears to have the support of the two main political parties. However, the financial feasibility of this huge undertaking remains unclear. So far it seems that the public will not be asked to decide whether they believe the government should move forward.
Environmental concerns, including how to treat the material extracted from the excavation, have not yet been addressed.
But, perhaps, the most urgent threat to the future of Gozo as a distinctly different island from Malta is the continuing pressure to build more apartments, including in the heart of towns and villages. If Gozo clones Malta’s property development strategy, it will lose the unique features that can be exploited in adopting a better model for tourism. Unfortunately, there was little indication in the budget that the government might be willing to act to curb the excessive development of property that is taking place in Gozo and Malta.
Another area that deserves more attention in the budget is the plight of farmers. Many farmers in Gozo, as well as in Malta, face existential risks as landowners are threatening their rental rights. Despite the minimal impact of farming on the economies of both islands, there is a strong case to ensure that farmers continue to use the land that some speculators would like to see covered with more apartments.
Gozitan students have some justifiable clues about the reduction of transport facilities to and from university when they arrive in Malta. These administrative issues can be resolved quickly and do not need to be discussed in a budget forum.
The spokesperson of the Opposition for Gozo, Chris Said, stated that “Gozo has been allocated only 2.8 per cent of the country’s capital expenditure, despite having a footprint equivalent to one third of the size of Malta”. While more spending may mean better facilities, the construction of more roads and schools may not improve the future for Gozo. Indeed, it would be counterproductive if more capital spending made Gozo more like Malta, where both rural and urban environments were severely affected and where the latter was increasingly interfering with the former.
As acknowledged in the strategic document of the Gozo Regional Development Authority, the improvement of the facilities for the people living in Gozo and, at the same time, that Gozo maintains its characteristics of natural beauty is an act of difficult balance. Tough choices need to be made.
The 2022 budget did not even try to make a Solomonic decision to reconcile the tensions created by the desire to make people’s lives better while preserving the natural environment.
Independent journalism costs money. Times of Malta Support for price of coffee.