Challenges in decision making
Simple and straightforward answers are far from the norm, with the majority of choices available having either repercussions or opportunity costs.
The art, or science, of deciding might appear a simple act. To an attentive mind, complexity and demands become rather obvious. For people holding public office, decisions or a lack thereof on what to change and what level and quality of public goods to provide are just a few examples of this complexity. Often, it is assumed that administrating and providing such goods and services in a small community is much easier as the complexity and difficulties can be scaled down. Experience and evidence show that this is not the case.
The non-scalable property of policy-making is most evident in small communities such as Gozo. Irrespective of the size, a certain level of services is expected and this involves costs. However, in contrast to communities of a certain size, small ones like Gozo cannot benefit from economies of scale. In other words, the cost of provision will be higher because it cannot be spread over a large amount.
When this is compounded to other constraints that are present in small communities – such as a lack of human resources and specialised expertise – the result can be either a sub-optimal provision of services or goods or else provision of inferior quality.
This is where the issue of state aid comes into play. State aid is a very sensitive topic in policy-making in the European Union, as it can be used to support certain industries and restrict competition. This often leads to rigid interpretation and applications of these rules. However, state aid rules within the EU cannot be applied in such a way, especially when dealing with regions scattered across the continent, all facing different circumstances and challenges. It makes no sense to have the same criteria applied uniformly to peripheral regions as well as to city centres. Applying them uniformly would mean increasing the structural disparities that already exist between the centre and the periphery of the EU.
This is why it is my belief that, coupled with infrastructure development measures, we must also be prepared to provide state aid to act as an incentive. Limiting such projects to the de minimis amount of aid is not always appropriate to effectively mitigate this situation. We must make sure that state aid becomes an effective instrument that can help us address the inherent constraints that are the result of our small size.
In recent years we have continued to work on the principle that we need to support our stakeholders in the economic development of the island. An example is the Gozo Fodder Scheme, whereby farmers and breeders can obtain aid to help with the costs of transporting grain to Gozo. Making the best use of the available structures and benefitting in a sustainable way from state aid is part of the solution. However, the real trick is to nurture a culture which, instead of looking at constraints presented by small size, sees opportunities. We are conscious that without the initiative and risk-taking of many local individuals, lot of things would not be possible. The vision and determination demonstrated by these people is truly remarkable, especially when one considers the difficulties and barriers that they have to face and overcome.
In our present role as policymakers, we have amply demonstrated that we are prepared to work with all those that are ready to contribute to the beneficial development of Gozo. Our resources are too far limited to do away with a sizeable chunk of it just because there are areas of disagreement. This is how we see our roles as policy-makers: intervening when necessary while involving stakeholders as much as we can.