The soul of our policies
For responsible governments strategies are made up of short- and medium-term phases all leading to the final goals, as dictated by policies and inspired by the country’s needs and challenges.
ike all economic and financial exercises, Budget 2018 is part of a diligent plan, spread over a period of years and implemented through a rational sequence of annual measures that eventually become an integral part of the country’s financial, fiscal and social system. In a democracy governments are aware that their tenure of office is part of a longer process that necessarily see alternate political parties being elected to administer the nation’s wealth and wellbeing according to the principles each party stands for.
It is therefore unconceivable that any party aspiring to be an alternative government at any moment in time, lacks a clear vision of its own raison d’être.
Not in our character
Having said that, let me be very clear from the outset: I strongly and unreservedly condemn the despicable murder that occurred last Monday. It is unheard of that anyone in the public eye, for whatever reason, should be silenced forever in such tragic circumstances. We simply cannot recognise such barbarism in the Maltese or Gozitan character or in our habitual ways of accepting each other’s views. Besides respect, tolerance is the least we can offer to ensure healthy democratic debate at all reasonably acceptable levels.
It is even harsher to conceive that any aspiring politician could fall into the inhuman pit of pointing ruthless fingers to attract some populist cheer through such tragic occurrences. Usurping the national outcry and expanding it beyond all rational limits in order to score partisan points is certainly – to say the least – proof of lack of human and political responsibility. From a purely political viewpoint, what we have witnessed in Parliament this week gave enough evidence that such elements are still around.
As the Prime Minister stated so clearly, such frightening instances call the Government and the Opposition to come together and lead the nation out of fear. National responsibility should be at the very core of politics. It should divest each one of us from desires for ego-trips.
The budget debate
Over and above the shocking situation created this week, the country needs to continue moving diligently forward and look ahead in its everyday life. This is in fact the purpose of debating annually what the government plans for the following year. The 2018 Budget, currently being discussed in Parliament, is based on the unprecedented success achieved during the last four years. It is in itself a clear and detailed statement by the Labour government of how it will proceed in distributing the nation’s prosperity with a definite purpose. Capital and recurrent expenditures will be further defined by each ministry through the various projects and measures, supplying the country’s demands and providing for our people’s individual and collective social and financial wellbeing.
I will be presenting the Gozo Ministry’s budget allocation for the coming year, including the additional €4 million in funds for capital and recurrent purposes. As a Ministry for an island-region, we will lead and coordinate the planning and implementation of current and future projects in various sectors, while scheduling a synchronised and organic way of doing things on the island. It is in our remit to sustain the economy, the environment, society, culture and identity that are the major pillars for the wellbeing of our society. We have to ensure that all these components work in tandem, seeking sustainability in each pillar through the full respect of the economic and social life of the community.
The government has already indicated new capital projects and innovative measures through various schemes and in various fields, all based on the electoral manifesto. Job creation is one of the major purposes of business startups which will be encouraged with appropriate fiscal incentives in key priority areas while small businesses will be strengthened to be able to grow within a healthier economic scenario for Gozo.
A successful summer
Over the past summer months, we have experienced success in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Gozo’s uniqueness as a favourite destination for both the domestic and foreign visitors was considerably enhanced by the Ministry’s initiatives for a more effective public cleanliness and a multitude of cultural events and thematic festivals. These will be extended to the shoulder and winter months in a bid to attract a year-round tourism flow.
Latest statistics this week show that 7,466 cruise passengers visited Gozo during the third quarter of the year. This was up by 4,717 or 171.58 per cent on the same period last year, when the number stood at 2,749.
Considering that on a national aggregate, cruise passengers registered during the first nine months of 2017 stood at 482,855, a rise of 7.6 per cent over 2016, visits to Gozo prove a far better share for our island between July and September this year. However encouraging, such two islands during the third quarter this year. This shows an increase of 1.9 per cent when compared to summer last year, noting also that the number of vehicles also increased, this time by 3.7 per cent, totalling 463,585. Gozo Channel has in fact operated a total 6,334 trips, showing an increase over the same period last year.
Our social commitment
Two special engagements I had this week touched on the social situation of the Gozitan community, and took me back to my previous responsibilities in the elderly and disability sectors. The annual conference by the Mental Health Association of Gozo, a very active voluntary organisation, this year focused on a very intriguing theme – Il-Be u Jien (My Nothingness and Me). Together with professionals and other stakeholders, we dealt with the issue of loneliness. Through experience in the Mental Health services, loneliness is affecting all spheres of the general population, be it in childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. We are aware that one could have people around him throughout the day, at home or elsewhere, and still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness.
I stressed the fact that the issue is also affecting children at a young age who lack the presence of parents or adults when returning home from school. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to their vulnerability being threatened when seeking attention elsewhere. Society is bound to address such instances at the earliest possible in order to avoid that neglect and isolation which can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health.
During another seminar about future challenges for active ageing in Gozo, I dwelt on our past initiatives to secure the necessary empowerment for those who feel fit and desire to stay active within their own families and their community. Hundreds of families with elderly relatives remember how I managed to extend home care services to Gozitan persons too, the public-private partnership schemes to acquire hundreds of additional beds, besides opening day centres for active ageing in various localities.
The Gozo Ministry is fully committed to further enhance those measures, while focusing on the completion of one of Labour’s landmark projects – the Home for the Elderly in Għajnsielem, targeting the first ever 500-bed availability level for our Gozitan elderly. This we will do in addition to further initiatives for nightshelters, day-care centres and respite services.
Essentially, this and much more is the soul of our policies and strategies!