Now’s not the time for a Gozo tunnel, Malta Chamber tells PN

Malta Chamber presents their proposals to the Nationalist Party

File photot
File photot

Now is not the time to talk about a Gozo tunnel, Malta Chamber CEO Marthese Portelli told the Nationalist Party on Thursday.

During an official meeting between the Malta Chamber of Commerce and the Nationalist Party, the former brought forward several proposals and suggestions for the next legislature.

Portelli, a former Nationalist Party MP herself, stated that the Malta-Gozo tunnel project is not a project that affects Gozo only, and the decision to take on that project must be taken by the country as a whole.

“Now’s not the time to talk about a Gozo tunnel,” she said. 

Earlier in the meeting, Chamber President Marisa Xuereb added that the state needs to strengthen mid-sized enterprises, ranging up to 500 staff, to reach international business standards and avoid creating an “economy of dilettantes”. 

Portelli then emphasised that the Maltese economy must be resilient to any hurdles. She outlined three categories of sectors: crucial industries that took a hit during the pandemic, such as tourism; sectors that powered through in spite of the pandemic, like manufacturing; and existing sectors that can be strengthened, like maritime and the blue economy.

On tourism, a member of the Malta Chamber suggested that Malta should move away from the sun-and-beach tourism identity and emphasise unique points of touristic value.

He added that the Malta Tourism Authority needs to act like a regulator, not a competitor with other local tourism companies.

Additionally, the Malta Chamber suggested a temporary suspension on new tourist accommodation, pointing out that many rooms were being left empty even before the pandemic. 

Portelli mentioned that the retail sector should be tied to tourism. “Every locality should be given an identity,” she said, citing Firenze’s jewellery hotspot Ponte Vecchio, “and the environment around the locality needs to cater to the tourist”.

Marisa Xuereb added that there is a strong state-aid opportunity for semiconductors, which already enjoys a strong sector locally.

She also said that the financial sector needs repositioning, noting that a new EU directive could have a bigger impact on the local sector than tax harmonisation. 

The Malta Chamber is further proposing that government should treat berthed and visiting yachts in Malta’s marina in the same manner as tourism accommodation, meaning a 7% tourism VAT rate should apply.

She added that the igaming sectors need to go beyond betting and venture more strongly into esports, with more interaction and wider implementation.

Xuereb mentioned that Malta must maintain stable commercial energy tariffs once the current hedging agreement expires next month, adding that the issue impacted business as well as people. 

On the Nationalist Party’s proposal to lower corporate tax to 25%, the Malta Chamber suggested removing any ceilings and making sure any rate applies to all companies without a profit or staff threshold.

Marthese Portelli said Malta needs a carrying capacity study, with a focus on the built and natural environment. 

“We need to take a look at the Planning Authority and ERA and see that the former moves away from a permit function and takes on a planning function,” she stated.

She added that Malta ought to make sure that energy distribution is liberalised while looking into sources like hydrogen and ammonia.
On transport, Portelli emphasised having a multi-modal transport system as well as a holistic plan.

“Instead of small proposals on metros and trams, we need a holistic plan that connects different nodes together,” she said, suggesting an e-wallet system that provides access across different transport nodes.

Portelli made reference to Malta’s energy performance certificate system, stating that it exists, but its validity is questionable. “The current system isn’t catching up,” she said. 

She added that the country’s local plans for development need revisiting, but this can’t be done without a proper study on carrying capacity.

Claudio Grech, the former Nationalist MP who penned the party’s manifesto, said that the Malta Chamber’s position is strongly aligned with the party’s programme, both on strategy and in the details. “For the most part, we’re on the same page,” he said