Can entrepreneurship thrive in Gozo?

Source: Mr. G. M. Mangion¸ PKF Malta

As published in the Sunday Independent on Sunday the 23rd of June 2013

A lot has been written on how to solve the double insularity of the sister island. Rivers of crocodile tears have flowed and lamentations were uttered by politicians of different hues with their heartfelt wishes to spur the island to a better economic future. But miracles take time and with a restricted budget not much can be done by the Minister for Gozo except pay for recurrent expenditure and minor capital projects .The restricted  access to the sister island is amply evident every time a thunderstorm and/or gale force winds make the ferry boat crossing dangerous . This problem is compounded by the fact that there is no airfield connection for emergency crossing in case of Gozo patients needing medical care at Mater Dei¸ while it obviously hampers the tourists who land in Malta and go directly to Gozo.

 At the moment¸ tourism in Gozo consists mainly of day trippers¸ which cannot sustain the critical mass necessary to sustain a thriving hospitality industry. This means that unless commuting is improved on a 24/7 basis¸ its inhabitants will remain isolated during storms and will never attain the levels of economic development achieved in Malta. A lot has been written in the past decades in the media on the best possible solution to link both islands¸ but the closest the government ever came to seriously considering a permanent link was in 1972. The Socialist government of the time commissioned Japanese engineers to carry out a preliminary survey to build a causeway. Alas this causeway did not materialise. Back then no subsea tunnels had been built but over the past decades technology has rapidly developed with specialised machinery used in tunnel construction especially in rock cutting. Furthermore¸ visitors to Gozo continued to increase¸ reaching four million passenger traffic between both islands.

For example one can mention the good connections used by residents of Gibraltar¸ which is far smaller in size but similar in number of inhabitants. Due to good connections¸ its inhabitants enjoy better access and thus improved business opportunities leading to a high per capita income. This was achieved due to its improved connections¸ which apart from other factors has contributed to a buoyant financial services industry. Gibraltar has a fully-fledged airport with a runway jutting on a reclaimed part into the sea. The tourist industry is galloping at full speed¸ travellers cross from neighbouring Spain; others visit on cruise liners and by air from Europe. Perhaps one can say that comparisons with Gozo are odious¸ but really and truly it helps to galvanise in our mindset and a change in attitude to give Gozo its due attention and help it attain a more prosperous future.

The solution is not easy¸ as the limited resources of our national budget do not allow for much innovation or change. Some might argue that spending hundreds of millions to connect the islands is a reckless move that is not recommended. Others may say that unemployment in Gozo is not high (currently under 800) but one asks whether the rest of work force is properly deployed to its maximum potential? In an island of approximately 30¸000 one can aim to reach a higher GDP and better standards of living achieved in the larger island. It is true that Gozo residents are smart and try to be