A PN government would ensure Gozitans elect their own regional council that comes with executive powers, Bernard Grech said on Sunday. 

The PN leader was addressing party supporters in Għajnsielem. 

The autonomous council would also get the necessary funding it needed to operate, Grech said, insisting that the Labour Party had always shied away from giving the island more autonomy.  

The issue of an autonomous regional council had been raised in parliament by former Gozo Minister Anton Refalo in 2017, and the island’s first minister Anton Tabone had welcomed the suggestion. 

Gozo did have an elected regional authority for more than a decade before it was abolished by a Labour government in 1973.

On Sunday, Grech said that decisions about Gozo should be taken by Gozitans and he looked forward to seeing the island brimming with activity that would convince young people to remain in Gozo and seek a future there.

Gozo, he said, could become a strong economic motor that also attracted youths from Malta and international talent.

The island got its first minister in 1987 under a PN government, Grech said, adding that the party had always believed in a sustainable Gozo. On the other hand, a Labour government had changed the Gozo minister three times in seven years.

PL did not only not have a roadmap, but it has had to continuously change the driver, he said.

A referendum about the Gozo-Malta tunnel

If need be, a PN government would also hold a referendum to understand whether Gozitans wanted a tunnel that connected the two main Maltese islands, Grech said on Sunday.

An independent panel of experts will meanwhile be consulted to understand whether a tunnel was, in actual fact, the best link between the two islands as the project would not only cost money to implement but would be also costly to maintain and will leave an economical, social and environmental impact. 

In 2014, former prime minister Joseph Muscat had resurrected the idea of a referendum, saying that once the studies were complete, he did not exclude holding a public consultation among Gozitans.

Earlier this year, Minister Ian Borg said the proposed tunnel project was financially viable even without state subsidies.

Grech said that the number of Gozitans who needed to cross to Malta every day had increased to 3,500 people, up from 1,500 in 2012, despite the government’s promise of job security in Gozo.

Gozo could no longer depend on tourism as much as it did in the past, he said, adding that while 20% of Malta’s economy depended in tourists, 50% of Gozo’s economy depended on the sector.

There is a great need for diversification of opportunities in Gozo, he said, adding that the island had been dealt a huge blow by the pandemic because of its great dependence on tourism.

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