Over the years, Gozo enjoyed numerous forms of administrative and autonomous setups ranging from the administrative council to the setting up of a Ministry dedicated to Gozo.
The Gozo Civic Council was set up as a statutory local government on the island of Gozo in 14 April 1961, the first experiment in civil local government in Malta since the French occupation of 1798–1800. The law authorised the Council to raise taxes, although it never actually made use of this power. However, it was only in 1987 that the Ministry for Gozo was established which role is still in force today.
The setting up of the Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA) in September 2020, was a milestone for Gozo. The Authority has a distinct and complementary role to that of the Ministry for Gozo as it is entrusted to promote both the identity of the island as well as its sustainable development.
Some might have questioned the need of having yet another Authority, this time with a focus on the sister island. In reality, however, it is something long overdue. There was a big gap in the area of policy design at a regional level. Gozo faces different realities and therefore, Gozo needs a consistent and structured voice that could mark its presence across various national entities. The sustainable development of Gozo needed to be part of the institutional framework of the country.
The word ‘sustainable’ can be easily overused and in the case of Gozo there is always the temptation to present it as an overarching objective without understanding what it really implies. There is also the risk of a knee jerk reaction and dismissing the idea of ‘sustainability’ when one gets frustrated by the recent boom in real estate and construction activity in Gozo. However, dismissing the idea of promoting and championing ‘sustainability’ simply because of adversity is like conceding defeat in the face of difficulties.
Dismissing the idea of promoting and championing ‘sustainability’ simply because of adversity is like conceding defeat in the face of difficulties.
The GRDA’s quest to champion sustainable development in Gozo needs to be taken into the right context. It needs to be pragmatic and realistic. It needs to build on the acknowledgement that it is useless to cry over the previous missteps. The sins of the past are many, including the barbaric onslaught during the 1990’s, which turned agricultural lands in San Lawrenz and Kerċem into quarries, making them an eyesore and damaging the ecosystem of the Inland Sea in Dwejra; as well as over-building in the last 30 years of Xlendi and Marsalforn.
What GRDA can bring to the table is to put in practice the dictum that a “one size fits all” attitude leaves too questions unanswered. Applying the same policies across the whole national territory might make sense most of the time but not all the time. There are many examples that in certain cases, the realities of Gozo are different from those of Malta and policies need to reflect this. Case in point is the application of planning policy for Gozo that clearly is having an adverse impact on the Island.
The Regional Impact Assessment Studies, which are part of the remit of the GRDA, are considered as an effective tool and will factor in any impact that a national policy or project might have on Gozo. It would be of interest to see how these studies will be implemented in the coming months.
During its first year, the Authority seems determined to play a part in shaping both the policy aspect as well as the public discourse around the development options facing the Island. During the last few weeks, the GRDA launched a public consultation process with the aim to develop the strategy for the coming 10 years. The consultation document is a well-thought policy document that presents a vision for Gozo and over 80 proposed measures around 8 priority areas.
Going through the document, it is clear that some areas are more developed and mature than others. But this is to be expected as it is still work-in-progress. Still, the document does not shy away from measures that might prove controversial. This is a good sign that the Authority is willing to venture outside the comfort zone and ready to engage in an open dialogue with those having differing views.
The first steps have been made. Small steps but important ones for the Authority and in turn for Gozo. The GRDA has the opportunity to be a key player in how Gozo will turn out in the next decade.