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Scicluna: ‘I promised I’d give Gozo more importance than I have in the past’

The finance minister held a public consultation meeting in Gozo ahead of next month’s budget where he emphasised the need to upgrade the country's infrastructure and to boost the island's private sector

yannick_pace
Yannick Pace
7 September 2017, 9:13pm
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna
Finance minister Edward Scicluna has pledged to “give Gozo more importance” in the forthcoming national budget than the island has been given in past budgets by the government.

The minister said that the budget’s theme – Upgrading Malta’s Infrastructure – had been chosen because the country was entering a new phase in its history, given that it was continuing to experience unprecedented economic growth.

He said that it was now necessary to ensure that Malta was able to maintain its level of economic growth, and ensuring a suitable infrastructure was essential for this to happen. Infrastructure, he said, did not only mean improving the country’s roads, but it also included better connectivity in areas such as communication, electricity and energy.

Scicluna said that with the country achieving a surplus, people’s demands had also increased. He stressed the need for government to differentiate between needs and wants, adding that the government remained committed to use its increased income to continue eating away at the national debt.

He acknowledged that families living only on a government pension, especially those who were living off the husband’s pension alone were the ones suffering the most. He said the government had issued a number of schemes in order to strengthen third pillar pensions, and would be dedicating more money in the next budget to this end.

Asked by one local councillor from Qala about whether the local councils could be helped in applying, and being granted EU funds, Scicluna said that the biggest issue in this regard was bureaucracy.

He said that there were billions of Euro in EU funds that were being misused or wasted, and this resulted in an excessive amount of measures by institutions that unfortunately, in a bid to stop those attempting to defraud the EU resulted in good projects getting held back. He pointed out that with Malta’s economic growth, Malta would now start receiving bills from the European Union.

“The fact that we are contributing means that we need to make sure that the money we are spending is being spent well,” he said, adding that it had taken Malta two years to obtain funding from foreign banks to build social housing, for example.  

Turning to tourism, and the sector’s sustainability, the minister said that he was pleased at the fact that Gozo had become a tourist destination in its own right, and was no longer “an appendix to Malta”.

He said Gozitans were right to be concerned with the sector’s sustainability. For this reason, he said, it was essential that the country’s landscape be protected.

“This is why we have to be cautions about where we build,” he said, adding that sustainability meant leaving a country that was just as beautiful in the future as it is today.

Furthermore, he said that while the tourism sector was an important one for Gozo, the island needed to develop other sectors - including the financial services and digital sectors - in order to reduce its vulnerability to fluctuations in tourism trends.

Another challenge faced by Gozo according to Scicluna was in the public sector, which he said had propped up the Gozitan economy in the past.

 “Lets face it, the public sector has a function in every country however in the past, and lets be frank, it also served as crutches, in instances where the private sector was not able to bring Gozo to its feet,” he said.

He emphasised that while this might have worked in the past, it was not sustainable going forward, insisting that Gozo needed to “start learning to walk without crutches”.

Replying to a gentleman who pointed out that people preferred to work in the public sector because it paid better, Scicluna stressed that this was the reason that the private sector on the island needed boosting, so that it’s productivity could increase which would result in companies being able to afford better wages.

 

yannick_pace
Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...