Gozo -groomed as a financial centre

Published on the Malta Today ¸ issue 3rd November 2010

A lot has been written on how to ameliorate the double insularity of the sister island. Rivers of crocodile tears flowed and lamentations were uttered by politicians of different hues bestowing their heartfelt wishes to spur the island to a better economic future. But miracles cannot happen over night and with a restricted budget of euro 74 million not much can be done by the minister for Gozo except paying for recurrent expenditure. In the 2011 budget we heard the usual pleas from government to catalyze the development of the potential of this island by sustaining Gozo’s distinct economy while continuing investment in its economic and social sectors. The budget speech reminded us that a lot has been done over the years to improve the infrastructure such as the closer of drainage outfall¸ increase in afforestation and building of a new public garden in Marsalforn.

The latest attempt was to launch a pilot project to polish second class water produced by the drainage purification plant to make abundant water available to farmers. Some roads were upgraded and a majestic new school complex has just been erected. The manufacturing sector saw a proposal to inject euro 8 million in a new project to build an SME park and preparations have started on a 7¸800-square metre area that will accommodate 39 businesses. The investment includes the building of a childcare centres in Xewkija which may help boost employment of married females. In the hospitality sector¸ it appears that branding the island as Destination Gozo¸ would also continue to boost its attractiveness with tourists particularly the implementation of a comprehensive Diving Master Plan. It is a pity that no decision has been taken to provide a landing strip for small aircraft to improve accessibility.

A stretch of land used for one of two wartime airstrips seemed very suitable as it was largely derelict and in government ownership. The end result was that while no heritage issues blocked the site the air strip project was shelved. This is regretted since with no direct air connection the type of tourist that visit will continue be a day tripper which cannot sustain the desired tourism levels. This means that the island will remain cocooned for ever and will take longer to attain the higher levels of economic development achieved in Malta. For example take Gibraltar which is by far smaller but due to its buoyant financial services sector enjoys a higher per capita income .There one finds a fully fledged airport with a runway jutting on some part into the sea. Business is running at full speed¸ travellers cross from neighbouring Spain¸ others by cruise liners¸ and most by air from Europe.

Other islands which have prospered in the financial services sector are Cayman Islands and British BVI (among others ). But what can be done to change the mindset in our politicians to give Gozo its due attention and help it gravitate into a more prosperous future. The answer is not easy given the limited resources which the national budget permits to inculcate innovation or change. A catalyst of change is necessary to avoid the brain drain not to forget the mass exodus that prevailed after the war when thousands of skilled workers were triumphantly whisked away on ships to New York¸ Sydney or Canada.

Granted that unemployment in Gozo is currently under one thousand but one may ask is the rest of work