One truly has to question whether democracy is alive and well, considering how even after every single one of the 17 mayors in Gozo has been ignored after protesting against overdevelopment. Are Gozitans really being represented, when their local representatives are ignored in favour of shady business interests? Of course, it is not just Maltese business interests which exploit Gozo, but Gozitan ones also. However, just like in any typical colonial situation, these local predatory agents are empowered to exploit their own people only thanks to the legislative framework and policies of the occupying power. It is time to think of Gozitan solutions for Gozitan people, rather than repeat Malta’s own mistakes and make Gozo its carbon copy, full with congestion, chaos and poor quality housing.
The overdevelopment of Gozo is only possible, in other words, thanks to a compromised central authority in Malta which does not really care about Gozitans and what they want. The backroom deals compromising Gozo are taking place in Malta. The only solution can be to empower the mayors of Gozo and Gozitans themselves to protect their identity, culture and way of life against exploitation. Beyond calling for empowered local councils, however, Gozo should have its own set of rules and policies for development, instead of suffering according to the same flawed rules which have destroyed Malta.
The recent fiction about a “right to develop” is a convenient way for politicians to escape from their responsibilities, and allows them to evade taking serious and difficult decisions to preserve our heritage, culture and environment. There is no such thing as a “right to develop”, only an ability to do so. Anyone who wants to develop must adhere to the policies and legislation of the day, and these can change.
When we talk about a “right to develop”, we are using two weights and two measures. Who is standing up for the people who lose money on their investments in solar panels, when those solar panels are suddenly stuck in the shade? We do not even have solar rights yet. What about the people who lose their views, and whose property loses value due to overdevelopment and abuse of policy loopholes, or a sudden legislative increase of building heights? Instead of thinking about a right to develop, we should be thinking about securing people’s quality of life today.
Gozitans do not want their island to become a copy of Malta. The most precious resources which Gozo has are underappreciated assets, which would be completely ruined by overdevelopment. Overdevelopment would make Gozo poorer, louder, dirtier and less unique. It is the uniqueness, beauty, aesthetics and community which make Gozo strong, and offer the greatest potential for its prosperity in the future.
After all, overdevelopment only offers short-term profit, at the permanent cost of irreplaceable resources in future. Gozo does not need to allow itself to be colonised to thrive and succeed. All that Gozo needs to succeed is to protect what makes it Gozitan, and to take pride in it and promote it. People do not love Gozo because of how similar it is to Malta, but because of the positive qualities which make it different. Let us side with the 17 mayors of Gozo, who must never surrender in this fight, which is just another front in the war against corrupt business and its tendrils. We must stand in solidarity with them.
ADPD Deputy Secretary General
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 5 September