Successive governments have been trying their utmost to plug the economic gap between Malta’s two major islands. However, Gozo’s double insularity is a tough nut to crack unless it is permanently linked to mainland Malta.
Over the last decades the haemorrhage of bright and skilful Gozitans to work in Malta escalated in an unprecedented manner with no end in sight. Coupled with that is the fact that Gozo is now more of an ageing population than its sister island, with the old-age dependency ratios set to increase exponentially in the coming decade. This implies that a preoccupation with the current workforce shortage was never more opportune.
The private sector in Gozo struggles to survive as it lack much needed confidence from local residents. This is leading to a disproportionate reliance on the public sector to service Gozo’s complex needs and requirements. In fact, one third of jobs in Gozo are in public sector, a much higher figure than the one in four ratio on the mainland.
Tourism has always been a very important, if not the most vital, sector for Gozitan economy. Undoubtedly it constitutes Gozo’s key economic cogwheel. However, over the last decade we witnessed the closure of four hotels which together provided around 500 beds. Most of us have fond memories of Mġarr Hotel, Atlantis Hotel in Marsalforn, Andar Hotel in Munxar, and Duke of Edinburgh in Victoria, which have all been issued permits for conversion to blocks of apartments.
The change in government has seen a new boost to Gozo tourism with the launch of village boutique hotels, a new concept for the island under the Quaint trademark. Despite the few numbers, the recent permits for guest houses, in addition to the permit for an additional hotel in Marsalforn, augur extremely well for the future of tourism in Gozo.
This year Gozo witnessed an increase in its gross domestic product compared to Malta. This confirms the abysmal state of the Gozitan economy in the years leading to 2013, and the concrete and far-reaching positive effects of the Labour government’s vision for Gozo.
I intend to formally propose to Parliament that some public holidays that fall on a midweek are availed of on the preceding Monday
The film By the Sea was a major contributor and catalyst to this economic upturn as it generated a feel-good factor that motivates higher rates of economic investment and spending. However, we should not rest on our laurels but keep looking for both long- and short-term economic strategies that have a realistic potential to push forward Gozo’s fragile economy to improve the residents’ standard of living and quality of life.
One particular proposal springs to mind that will boost the Gozitan economy and equally contribute towards the national economy. Research, albeit in its initial stages, is indicating that when a public holiday falls on a Monday, more so than a Friday, the weekend economic activity is protracted and shoots up by an average of 15 to 22%. Conversely, when a public holiday falls on a midweek its effect on economic activity is next to negligible, not to mention the negative impact it creates on business productivity and consumer spending.
Following a thorough discussion and consultation process with various stakeholders, in addition to the collecting of relevant statistical data, I intend to formally propose to Parliament that some public holidays that fall on a midweek are availed of on the preceding Monday. The selected public holidays will only be chosen after thorough consideration and hopefully consensus across the political spectrum, constituted bodies, and the business community.
I understand that most public holidays are related to traditional religious feasts and it is definitely not my intention to involve myself in such controversial issues. Traditional feasts like St Paul’s shipwreck, St Joseph’s, the Mnarja, Santa Maria and il-Vitorja should remain being celebrated as they are today.
The sole intention of this proposal is to follow other countries in creating Monday bank holidays to create longer weekends and allow more family time while further aiding entrepreneurial activity. This move may be a win-win situation. After all, such national days are best celebrated by serving as an incentive for greater economic activity benefiting all Maltese and Gozitans.
If such a proposal sees the light of the day, I would expect a renewed effort by all players in the field to enhance Gozo’s calendar of activities to match the new reality.
Since this notion is still in its infancy, all genuine ideas and opinions are appreciated. I believe that if we could put all our energies in one basket and in the same direction, a further improved Gozitan and Maltese economy is a real possibility.
Franco Mercieca is a Labour Party MP.