[WATCH] Justyne Caruana: we don’t want Gozo to become a ‘Malta 2’, especially after tunnel link

Gozo minister says strong private sector incentives needed on the sister island, as Chris Said underlines Gozo hospital should never have been privatised

Gozo minister Justyne Caruana and Nationalist MP Chris Said on Xtra this evening
Gozo minister Justyne Caruana and Nationalist MP Chris Said on Xtra this evening

There are clear indications that the Gozo tunnel project will go through, with both Gozitans and Maltese being able to benefit from the permanent link, Gozo minister Justyne Caruana said today, however it would be up to Gozitans to prevent the island from becoming a ‘Malta 2’.

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra, Caruana said the tunnel might be ready within seven years, although there has also been talk of a shorter time frame in the last few days.

Also on the programme, Gozitan Nationalist MP Chris Said said the underground tunnel had its pros and cons, but it was important that an economic and social impact assessment be undertaken to see how such a link would affect Gozo and Malta.

“I had put forward a proposal for a tunnel study seven years ago, because I realised Gozo could not keep going in the direction it was heading – with young Gozitans moving to Malta, and Gozo turning into an old people’s home,” Said said, “When the government changed in 2013, the studies were not continued, and instead a new study by a blacklisted Chinese company on building a bridge, which ultimately did not go anywhere, was started.”

Clearly indicating he was in favour of the tunnel, Said highlighted that although some people feared this would end up ruining Gozo since it would lead to more development pressure, this would happen with or without the underground link.

“It is up to us politicians whether or not to give in to the pressure,” he said.

Opposition in favour of Barts

Barts Medical School is a good investment for Gozo, Said said, but the Opposition has strong misgivings regarding the privatisation of the Gozo hospital.

“The issue was about Vitals Global Healthcare and making Gozo’s only hospital private. Had the government given Vitals lands to build a new private hospital, this would have been all well and good,” he said.

Caruana retorted that Gozitans deserved a good health service, “and there isn’t the man power in Gozo for this to happen [without privatisation]. Had a Nationalist government been in charge of improving health care in Gozo, it would have entered into debt.”

“The government gave Vitals €50 million, which it ran off with - it stole [the money],” Said insisted.

Questioned by presenter Saviour Balzan whether she was confident the Vitals failure would not be repeated with Steward Health Care, Caruana only said she could see the government was committed to giving the best health service possible in Gozo.

Incentives to expand Gozitan private sector

Reacting to comments by Gozo Business Chamber spokesperson Michael Grech and Gozo Channel chairperson Joe Cordina, on Gozo  facing a shortage of private sector employees, since many young qualified people were leaving the island to work in Malta instead, Caruana underscored that one of the biggest problems behind this was the pay gap between Gozo and Malta.

Caruana said the government’s electoral manifesto included a skills gap analysis for Gozo, to find out what the market required and then prepare people appropriately for such needs.

“The private sector in Gozo has to look inwards and see which conditions and incentives it is offering Gozitans to work on the island. In Gozo, same as in Malta, there is the issue of people regarding public sector work as giving them safe and stable employment,” she said.

Said said he agreed that Gozo had a problem, but didn’t agree with the solution the government was offering.

“Gozo faces the issue of double insularity, which cannot be changed – it will always have some disadvantages. But the government, together with the private sector, has to work to eliminate the pay gap Gozo suffers from,” he emphasised, “New graduates will naturally seek the place where they earn the best salaries, and will probably go to Malta to start a family and buy their first home.”

“Four years ago the average pay gap was €400, but there is now a €1,300 pay gap between the sister islands,” he said, adding that Gozo also suffered from seasonality in its private sector when it came to catering, hospitality and manufacturing transport costs.

In turn, Caruana said that government inter-island transport incentives were already in place.

The government would also be putting into effect in the next few days an incentive system allowing for employers to be refunded 30% of the average way of an employee, up to a maximum of €6,000, aimed at creating more private employment opportunities.

New niches could be key

Gozo cannot cope with big industries, Said argued, so it must necessarily resort to small niches.

“Gaming, financial services, aviation and pharmaceutical services are niches Malta has entered into with success. Half of Gozo’s GDP comes from tourism, while in Malta its 20-25%, so Gozo is relying strongly on a single industry.”

“We are looking into a number of niches in the Gozo context,” Caruana said, “But we don’t want Gozo to become an extension of Malta, especially with the tunnel… we will see what potential Gozo has and move in that direction.”

She said it was also important to incentivise certain types of tourism, such as environmental, religious, sport and health tourism, and that related to learning English.”

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