Gozo doesn’t belong to Labour or PN, minister insists

Parliament started to debate a Bill that will establish a regional authority for GozoParliament started to debate a Bill that will establish a regional authority for Gozo

Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana said Gozo needed to stop being patronised by politicians
Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana said Gozo needed to stop being patronised by politicians

Gozo minister Justyne Caruana insisted on Tuesday that the island does not belong to the Labour Party or the Nationalist Party but to all Gozitans, as parliament started debating a bill that seeks to establish a regional authority for the island.

Speaking in parliament, Caruana said it was positive that both political parties had held events in Gozo over the weekend but called on politicians to stop “patronising” the island.

She stressed that the need for a mentality change, and a move away from old-fashioned politics in the way Gozitan affairs were administered.

She said that Gozo currently operated under a mentality where citizen’s needs were considered political favours, which she said had resulted in the island falling behind.

“This Bill is offering a historic opportunity for us to show that Gozo is united,” she said, adding the authority would provide a legal instrument to push the island forward.

Gozo, she said, faced a number of challenges including its insularity and its small size, stressing however that every challenge could be turned into an opportunity. 

The island could no longer rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy, Caruana said.

She said that over the years there had been many discussions on the way forward for the island, none of which had materialised for a number of reasons, mainly related to viability of the plans discussed and the availability of the necessary funds.

Caruana said that any strategy for the island should look to grow the Gozitan economy and allow it to attract the necessary talent, while also safeguarding those characteristics that were unique to island.

She stressed that the Bill had been drawn up following a long process of consultation with various stakeholders. 

She said that the establishment of a regional authority would, for the first time, allow there to be a single, strong and legally-established entity that can coordinate the work that needs to be done.

Among the authority’s objectives, she said, was the formulation and implementation of a holistic strategy.

Moreover, she said the authority would also ensure that Gozitan affairs are no longer an “afterthought”, but would rather be central to policy-making.

The authority, she said, will be addressing various needs the island of Gozo has. Primarily it will be responsible for the formulation of a strategy as well as the implementation of this same strategy.

She said she had worked very hard to reverse the previous trend where ideas about Gozo often went unimplemented. 

‘Bill proposes authority by the minister, for the minister’ 

Opposition MP Chris Said said the Bill did not do enough to put the principle of subsidiarity into practice. The principle, he said, meant that those in power would move to relinquish it and give it those closest to the impact of any decisions taken.

Said said that this was the way forward for Gozo as far as the PN was concerned. The Gozitan MP ran through a list of developments and changes to the way Gozo was administered over the years, insisting that decisions about the island should be taken by Gozitans.

Using schools as an example, he said that had the decision not been taken to remove health and education in Gozo from the minister’s portfolio, “the Victoria primary school would have been completed by now”.

Opposition MP Chris Said said the Bill gve the minister too much power
Opposition MP Chris Said said the Bill gve the minister too much power

Turning to the law, Said criticized the fact that the authority’s board would be made up of only seven people. He stressed that the committee needed to be as representative of the Gozitan population as possible.

Furthermore, he said that the fact that four out of seven board members would be appointed by the minister meant they would have no security of tenure and would therefore be acting as the “minister’s puppets”.

He was also critical of the fact that the law required the Gozo minister to sign off on most things, including how to spend extra funds, clearance to borrow money as well as the approval of any expenditure.

“There is always a reference to the minister, so there is no devolution of power,” he said. “It will remain in the hands of the government of the day.”

Said also said that it appeared as though the Bill intended to pass enforcement onto the authority. He said the wording suggested that the government intended to use to authority to implement measures or take decisions that it did not want to take itself.

He also questioned how this would work in practice, given that different legal obligations fell under the remit of different ministries and authorities.

“What is being proposed is in our opinion superficial,” he said, adding that authority was by one “minister for the minister”.

“It’s an authority with no strength and no resources to carry out its function.”

Increased independence for Gozo would be counterproductive 

Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds Aaron Farrugia however pointed out that making Gozo more independent would be counterproductive and would result in Malta being able to obtain less EU funding.

Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia said giving Gozo more independence from Malta would weaken its position when trying to obtain EU funds
Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia said giving Gozo more independence from Malta would weaken its position when trying to obtain EU funds

He said that Gozo could never qualify as a region. “It’s all about numbers,” he said, adding that the size of Gozo’s population meant it could never apply for regional status.

Moreover, he said that Malta often applied for funds by adding Gozo’s population to Malta’s, insisting that the PN’s proposal would see both Malta and Gozo being eligible for fewer funds. “It can be a region, but it would be a region without EU funds.”

He said that both administrations had agreed that Gozo would get 10% of the funds allocated to Malta, but said that the investment in Gozo especially recently, meant the island was getting more than that. 

There was no obstacle, he said, for entities in Gozo applying for EU funding.

Obtaining funds for the island was not about numbers but stamina, he said, noting that he often discussed additional projects that EU funds could be used for with the Gozo minister.

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