The recently-added fourth Gozo Channel ferry is to be taken out of service for a month for modification to make passenger access easier, Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana told parliament on Thursday.
The ferry was chartered and introduced into service just before the summer, eliminating most queues at Mgarr and Cirkewwa. But the vessel was criticised because passengers have to use the car ramps to board and there was no lift to the passenger decks.
On the other three ferries, passengers board directly to the passenger decks via bridges directly from the terminal buildings.
Dr Caruana said during the Budget debate on Gozo that the MV Nikolaus would be out of service between November 11 and December 12.
She said the ferry will then stay in service until a new vessel is commissioned following a call for tender.
Parliamentary committee on Gozo
Earlier, Dr Caruana said she agreed with an Opposition proposal for parliament to have a committee focusing exclusively on Gozitan issue.
The proposal was made in a motion tabled by Gozo shadow minister Chris Said and Nationalist MPs from Gozo Marthese Portelli, Frederick Azzopardi and Kevin Cutajar.
“Our objective is to start debating Gozitan issues week in week out, rather than once a year during the budget’s financial estimates,” Dr Said remarked.
He called on the three government MPs elected from the sister island to endorse the motion, not least because it had featured in Labour’s manifesto for the 2017 general election.
Reacting, Dr Caruana said she had been planning to announce the setting up of this committee in her speech.
She pointed out that the Gozo Regional Authority Bill which became law last summer had already made a reference to the setting up of this committee. Ironically, the Opposition had voted against it, she said.
Nonetheless, she said that after consulting Dr Said they agreed to amalgamate the proposals.
Budget fails to address Gozo’s challenges - Said
In his remarks Dr Said said the 2020 Budget did not address Gozo's challenges, such as those stemming from an ageing population, the need to upgrade the island’s infrastructure and the disparity of disposable income between the Maltese and Gozitans.
He noted that most of the planned €6 million increase on Gozo's roadworks expenditure next year would go solely for Triq l-Imġarr linking Nadur to Għajnsielem, meaning there would be little funds left for other works. The overall €10 million allocation was a drop in the ocean compared to the €700 million allocated for Malta.
The PN MP also took the government to task on the setting up of the Gozo Regional Authority, saying this entity was yet to be set up despite having been approved by parliament last summer. Moreover, he said this entity would be toothless and the financial allocation of €200,000 for next year was a pittance.
From a sociological perspective he said that more young people were leaving Gozo as employment conditions in Malta were much better. Citing official statistics, he said the pay gap between Maltese and Gozitan workers had widened.
Dr Said also listed several projects which had been in the pipeline for years but had never materialised like the new law courts, the cruise liner terminal and the Marsalforn breakwater.
71 roads in this legislature – Gozo Minister
In her winding up speech, the Gozo Minister outlined various initiatives being taken to create jobs and improve the island’s infrastructure which, she said, had been left to crumble by successive PN-led governments.
She pointed out that during this legislature the government would resurface or construct from scratch 70 roads, of which 31 were completed, while works on another 42 were underway.
Dr Caruana said that Triq l-Imġarr which was closed for traffic 18 months ago after parts of it collapsed, had been left neglected for 30 years. While noting that this was due to the clayish terrain in the area, she said the ministry was taking its time to ensure the job would be done in a right manner.
She also announced that the tender for the road from Victoria to Marsalforn including part of the ring road, would be published in the coming months.
As for the Gozo Regional Authority she said this would start operating next year.
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