In­no­va­tion and com­mit­ment

If any­thing is cer­tain, it is that change will hap­pen whether we are pre­pared for it or not.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Justyne Caru­ana

Cer­tainly, stay­ing within the sta­tus quo com­fort zone will not de­ter change from hap­pen­ing. Change does not hap­pen by chance, it is the nor­mal process in our coun­try’s way of mov­ing ahead with time.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s key speech at Labour’s AGM last Sun­day spelled out the need to be fully pre­pared to pre-empt the need for change by be­ing in­no­va­tive in our ideas and plan­ning. We need to bring the fu­ture into the present so that we can do now what needs to be in place to­mor­row. Labour has al­ways been the agent for change, and it not sur­pris­ing that, his­tor­i­cally, it al­ways had to face stub­born op­po­si­tion from those who sat by idly – al­beit com­fort­ably – al­most hop­ing that change would never come and that things would be as they have been for cen­turies.

The need for change

In to­day’s con­stantly and fastchang­ing world, change and in­no­va­tion play an ex­tremely im­por­tant role for any na­tion – let alone our own young and yet re­silient na­tion. A com­mit­ted gov­ern­ment must ac­knowl­edge the need for change, and there needs to be an iden­ti­fi­able rea­son in or­der to make that spe­cific change nec­es­sary. The en­deav­ours of this gov­ern­ment are pre­cisely di­rected to­wards the in­trin­sic need for fur­ther equal­ity and eq­uity in a fair so­ci­ety that is able to turn chal­lenges into equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for all.

On the other hand, an ad­min­is­tra­tion – and any po­lit­i­cal party for that mat­ter – that fails to recog­nise the need for change is doomed to fail­ure. The Labour gov­ern­ment is fully aware that it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of a fo­cused gov­ern­ment to be re­spon­sive and aware of the need for change and be pre­pared to take the nec­es­sary mea­sures with a sound cor­re­spond­ing leg­isla­tive back­ing.

In my opin­ion, Dr Mus­cat de­liv­ered one of his ma­jor speeches through­out his first 10 years at the helm of the Labour Party, defin­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tic dy­namism for which Labour stands. It was loaded with vi­sion, pas­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion and it re­minded me of his very first speech, in June 2008, when he spoke of his dream but, in no time at all, showed that he is a bril­liant doer – gar­ner­ing the largest ma­jori­ties ever, to sus­tain his way for­ward.

High­est plac­ings

It has all paid off, with five con­sec­u­tive years that have not only wiped out decades of eco­nomic fail­ures and deficits ac­cu­mu­lated by Na­tion­al­ist regimes, but have placed the coun­try among the best achiev­ers in the EU in al­most all ar­eas. Sit­ting on our lau­rels, how­ever, is nei­ther our style nor our strat­egy. We have, in fact, set our­selves the task of lay­ing down a stronger foot­ing for the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Malta and Gozo. We have tan­gi­bly di­rected the way for­ward be­cause we had a clear vi­sion and im­ple­mented our strong will for change, with­out adding fur­ther fis­cal bur­dens on fam­i­lies and busi­nesses. And yet, the best re­sults kept flood­ing in with a reg­u­lar mo­men­tum.

The coun­try’s econ­omy has this week again been de­clared by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion as one of the fastest grow­ing economies within the EU, with record low un­em­ploy­ment and mod­er­ate wage growth. Such growth is also be­ing pro­jected to re­main in the com­ings months, ac­cord­ing to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Spring 2018 Eco­nomic Fore­cast, adding that the cur­rent ac­count and bud­get bal­ances are also set to re­main in sur­plus.

En­cour­ag­ing fore­casts

In sharp con­trast with the Op­po­si­tion’s crit­i­cism with re­gard to the pub­lic sec­tor, growth was re­ported to be pre­dom­i­nantly driven by the pri­vate sec­tor, which helped to fuel ex­port growth and ac­counted for most of the in­crease in real GDP growth. Pri­vate con­sump­tion growth also re­mained steady, while real GDP growth is fore­cast to av­er­age 5.8 per cent for 2018 as a whole, with a strong per­for­mance of the ser­vices sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas such as tourism, re­mote gam­ing and pro­fes­sional ser­vices, all of which are ex­pected to sus­tain the size­able cur­rent ac­count sur­plus.

While the un­em­ploy­ment rate is fore­cast to re­main at its record low, the coun­try’s debt-to-GDP ra­tio, which fell to 50.8 per cent in 2017, is fore­cast to de­cline fur­ther to 43.4 per cent by 2019.

Gozo’s share

The EC fore­cast also in­di­cates that cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture growth is pro­jected to re­main strong in all its com­po­nents, in­clud­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of in­vest­ment projects co-fi­nanced by the EU. The Gozo Min­istry is well geared up to keep the is­land on a high plac­ing on the coun­try’s agenda, through a lot of spade­work in prepa­ra­tion for lon­gawaited projects, as listed in our elec­toral pro­gramme, and more.

It was, in fact, ex­cel­lent news this week that the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion has granted plan­ning per­mis­sion for a mu­seum and cul­tural cen­tre for Gozo. The Gozo Mu­seum had been an elec­toral prom­ise since 2010 but was ac­tu­ally planned in 2012, when the pre­vi­ous Na­tion­al­ist Gov­ern­ment had iden­ti­fied the site for it to re­place the dis­used Boys’ Lyceum school in Vic­to­ria. In 2015 the Min­istry ap­plied for EU funds and even­tu­ally sub­mit­ted the rel­a­tive plans to the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity last year. The ten­der­ing process is al­ready on course for con­vert­ing the dis­used school build­ing into the mu­seum that Gozo has de­served for many years.

This mu­seum will bring to­gether var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural col­lec­tions cur­rently housed in smaller mu­se­ums in the Cit­tadella. Ex­hibits will in­clude arte­facts from the is­land’s nat­u­ral his­tory, ar­chae­ol­ogy, folk­lore, art and ethnog­ra­phy, with an in­tro­duc­tion to vis­ual arts. The plans also pro­vide ad­e­quate space for tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions, as well as other ameni­ties and a con­fer­ence area.

Work will in­clude the restora­tion of the 1950’s mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­tural build­ing, which was de­signed by ar­chi­tect Joseph G. Huntingford. The Gozo Mu­seum will be among other ma­jor projects to be taken in hand in the com­ing years, true to our elec­toral pledges a year ago.

Gozo’s Sports Fes­ti­val

In our quest to fur­ther es­tab­lish Gozo as an all-year round des­ti­na­tion, the Gozo Min­istry is sup­port­ing the Gozo Sports Board in or­gan­is­ing a sports fes­ti­val, start­ing off this week­end through to mid-June. The full pro­gramme in­cludes games and com­pe­ti­tions in around 27 dis­ci­plines, turn­ing the is­land into a wide-spread sports vil­lage.

I am de­ter­mined to en­cour­age more par­tic­i­pa­tion by Goz­i­tan chil­dren and ath­letes in a vast range of sportive events. The six-week fes­ti­val will in­clude a foot­ball tour­na­ment for fe­male play­ers, snooker and chess com­pe­ti­tions, foot­ball matches in which around 20 nurs­eries from Malta will par­tic­i­pate, bas­ket­ball, squash, bad­minton, soft ball, ten­nis, car mod­el­ling, aero­plane mod­el­ling, ath­let­ics, gym­nas­tics, cy­cling, mo­tor­cy­cling and horse races. The event is an­other ini­tia­tive from the cur­rent bud­get that pro­vides for sport­ing events in ad­di­tion to the var­i­ous the­matic fes­ti­vals which, in re­cent months, have be­come over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar in Gozo.

Dur­ing the same pe­riod – and par­tic­u­larly between 18 and 20 May – the is­land will be in a fes­tive mode with the Gozo Alive week­end fes­ti­val. Goz­i­tans and vis­i­tors will be en­ter­tained by var­i­ous lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional bands, to­gether with street per­for­mances by dancers, fash­ion pa­rades, con­certs and col­lec­tive art ex­hi­bi­tions on dis­play in var­i­ous churches and pub­lic places all around Gozo.

Through such pro­grammes, the Gozo Min­istry is be­ing in­no­va­tive and com­mit­ted to fur­ther cre­ate spe­cial at­trac­tions for tourists, while they en­joy the unique and serene en­vi­ron­ment the is­land can of­fer. In this way, too, we are fast chang­ing the idea that Gozo’s tourist in­dus­try is only a sea­sonal ac­tiv­ity.

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