Gozo is a gem, with its unique geology, pristine natural habitat and landscapes, laid-back community life, culinary delights and quaint villages.
Common sense would normally dictate that this way of life be nurtured to preserve our touristic industry, but over the carnival weekend, I had the opportunity to meet a cross section of Gozitan society, including the touristic sector, civil servants and students, all of whom gave me the impression that the population felt neglected, frustrated and hurt.
The main areas of concern were the lack of business incentives for Gozo, inconvenient connections and the deterioration of government services, especially healthcare.
The government believes that the solution is to build a car tunnel that is being pushed by a handful of business people, but my take is that the average Gozitan:
Fears a deluge of uncontrolled development which will threaten the very fabric which makes Gozo, Gozo, with the island’s tourism industry actually feeling that a car tunnel would threaten the island’s unique selling points;
Fears that government services could be reduced and smaller businesses, goods agents particularly, shut down as Malta offers more choice for better shopping;
Fears that car trips from Ċirkewwa to Valletta already take two hours during peak hours. If more Gozitans were to travel to Malta thanks to the car tunnel, bottlenecks such as in Burmarrad will worsen.
Gozitans expect the same respect, dignity and opportunities that their Maltese brethren enjoy, and key in all this is a thriving economy. But this does not appear to be a government priority.
The more qualified Gozitans are moving to Malta and being replaced with social cases that are seeing Gozo as a refuge from the exorbitant rent prices in Malta
If it were so, the boosted roads budget would be reflected in Gozo, but instead one experiences broken roads leading to five-star hotel complexes and a congested Victoria, thanks to the absence of the ring road.
This neglect is leading to the more qualified Gozitans moving to Malta and being replaced with social cases that are seeing Gozo as a refuge from the exorbitant rent prices in Malta.
So, what are the solutions?
Well, first and foremost, real incentives need to be introduced to attract investment to Gozo with service providers such as call centres being top of the list. Also, a fibre optic would encourage foreign investment, especially igaming companies, to move to Gozo.
Secondly, mass transport connections need a radical rethink, with the fourth ferry, fast car ferries to the harbour area, and an aircraft service to Xewkija topping the list.
More ambitious could be a monorail linking Victoria with the University, Valletta and the airport. Moreover, tourists wishing to discover Gozo through greener solutions could purchase a monorail pass ticket, combined with electric scooter rental, to lessen congestion.
Thirdly, a culture needs to be instilled where online teaching takes off, starting with ‘virtual Fridays’, which would allow university and Mcast students to enjoy an extra night in the comfort of their homes.
Irrespective of the above recommendations, Gozo’s quaintness must be protected and enhanced as from now. Why?
Has it dawned on you that all houses in Gozo are built of limestone?
But this culture is already changing as developers are now building massive concrete brick apartment blocks, including a 15-storey tower in Marsalforn, another on Xlendi seafront, and now for the first time, a huge block of flats that will ruin the quaint San Lawrenz village skyline.
Gozitans already characterise themselves as second-class citizens, which is disconcerting to say the least, and the island’s destiny is in our hands. So we either stand up and fight greedy developers and their subservient government together, or we lose both the goose and the golden egg. The ball is in our court and the clock is ticking.
Martin Cauchi Inglott is secretary general, Democratic Party.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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