[WATCH] Adrian Delia calls for special aid package for crisis-hit Gozo

The Opposition leader insisted Gozitans are being treated unfairly by the government

Opposition leader Adrian Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia

Opposition leader Adrian Delia has criticised the government on its tarnished healthcare record, but offered to work with it to defeat the coronavirus epidemic.

In a press conference this afternoon, flanked by Deputy Leader Chris Said and PN MP Kevin Cutajar, Delia spoke about the problems faced by Gozo from the medical and socio-economic perspective.

He asked where Steward Healthcare were in the midst of the Coronavirus epidemic, harshly criticising the Government for “short-changing” Gozo by selling off its only hospital to Steward, who has “not invested a euro” in it.

Delia spoke about the PN’s recommendations on the Gozo channel ferry and measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Gozo. It was good that the government had taken some steps but the PN hoped that more would be done, Delia said.

Gozitans had been short-changed by the government, he went on. The Gozo hospital was sold to a private company with no expertise in healthcare, began Delia. “We have no return on investment for the money we spent on this,” he said. “If only they had, we would have 400 hospital beds there. Instead we don’t even have the capability for swabbing.”

Gozo’s double insularity meant the economic problems brought by the COVID-19 pandemic are even more pronounced, he said.  Despite this fact, Delia said, the Government was completely ignoring the Gozo Chamber, “not even talking to them.” 

“We are talking about closing business, workers whose daily bread is threatened and jobs already being lost.”

Delia recommended a special aid package for Gozo, to help those involved in the tourism industry and others who are suffering from the sudden economic slowdown.

If jobs in Gozo are to be saved, the economy in Gozo must be sustained and brought up to par, he said, adding that “we must act now.” 

None of the package of measures announced by Government had been presented in parliament, Delia said, adding that “the government figures are totally incorrect and intended to mislead.”

It was time to spread the wealth of the government’s much toted surplus, he said. 

Abroad countries were subsidising wages up to 70% yet here, nothing, Delia remarked. “The Government attitude is wrong, don’t throw away the worker, the small person.”

Saying he was not trying to score political points, Delia urged both sides of the political divide to unite and come up with solutions.

PN MP Chris Said pointed out that 50% of Gozo’s GDP is tourism-related and that this has ground to a halt due to the pandemic.

"The blow is greater for Gozo at the moment,” he said. Government statistics showed that Gozitan families earned on average €5500 less than their Maltese counterparts annually, this in addition to a gap in economic development which has increased by 15% from last year. The Gozo Business Chamber and Gozo Tourism Authority had both urged government to take the necessary steps, he said, but “surprisingly, not one member of the largest cabinet in our history met with them.”

Rather than simply deferring payments, a substantial cut in water and electricity bills and payments due to government was needed, Said said, calling for a specific package of incentives over and above that for Malta. 

A team of experts should urgently be appointed to help the business sector, he added. 

Businessmen don’t know how to apply for the incentives as government “just threw them out there and didn’t explain how to get them."

Gozo’s economy is being destroyed by the hour, he said. People are losing their jobs. 

Said, too had harsh words for Steward Healthcare’s mishandling of the situation. “Gozo is paying a bitter price for the government decision to privatise the only public hospital on the island. We hope that this decision will not have disastrous effects on the population of Gozo. Never more than now have we needed the medical facility to be a ray of light, he said.

“But instead of helping, hospital Operator Steward Healthcare has gone into hiding. It is completely absent,” Said remarked, adding that swabs are presently being sent to Malta in what he described as a waste of time and resources. 

“Here we have an operator who already took over €200 million and will get another €70million this year. This operator should have already built a 400-bed hospital in Gozo,” he said, but "not even one stone on top of another has yet been placed.”

PN MP Kevin Cutajar told the press conference that the authorities should communicate better to reassure Gozitans about COVID-19. 

“Gozo Channel employees are terrified that the few people crossing the channel may infect them as proper precautions are not being taken.”

He, too, called for a swab hub in Gozo, pointing out htat the delay in shipping samples to Malta for testing was increasing the risks for Gozitans. Cutajar asked for more clarity on the number of intensive therapy beds available for Gozo, asking why government was suddenly saying that cases will be taken to Malta whilst increasing the number of beds available in Gozo.

“This weekend we were told that the Gozo hospital now had an air ambulance.” Why wasn’t it being used as advertised, he asked.

“I am a disabled man and I’m used to swimming against the current...I learned that you should never lose hope. We must work with government to fight this battle.”