The Gozo tunnel hara-kiri – Arnold Cassola

Last Tuesday, Transport Minister Ian Borg announced that within the next six months there will be an international call for tenders for the beginning of the digging of the 14-kilometre tunnel between Malta and Gozo.

The chosen tenderer will be responsible for the management of the project as well as the actual digging and building of the tunnel. All other services related to this project will also form part of the tender.

The Malta entrance to the tunnel will be sited in the agricultural area of L-Imbordin, between Xemxija and Manikata, the area where Malta’s largest aquifer lies. Academic expert Keith Buhagiar warns: “The proposed Malta-side tunnel entrance location will ruin another relatively unspoilt stretch of what’s left of our countryside. Excavating the tunnel at this point will destroy: troglodyte dwellings dating to the late medieval period, fertile agricultural land and archaeological remains.”

In Gozo, the tunnel entrance will be in the area known as Ta’ Kenuna, beneath Nadur, another prime pristine area.

This announcement by Borg is an irresponsible one on various counts.

First of all, the minister has kept hidden from all of us the results of the geological studies conducted by the University of Malta, which are supposed to highlight the geological features of the channel separating Malta from Gozo.

The Prime Minister’s consultant, geologist Peter Gatt, has already declared that there are problems both in terms of the number of faults and large displacements, and also in the stratigraphy of the rock composition between Malta and Gozo.

He even warned, in a Malta Independent interview, about the “problematic geology between Malta and Gozo”, to the point where he believes that the construction phase may cause loss of life.

Despite such warnings, the Prime Minister and Borg have refused, till now, to publish the University geological studies. Why, all this secrecy? I am sure that, unlike the Electrogas contract or the Vitals one, there are no indications of possible sources of kickbacks to politicians that have to be blackened out in such geological study.

The irresponsibility on the part of the Prime Minister and the minister concerned is self-declared. Indeed, while announcing the project, One news reports Borg as stating that preparations are being made at the moment for an environmental impact assessment.

What? The government has already submitted its plans concerning the whole project to the EU and has announced that a ‘Prior Information Notice’ would soon be published in the EU’s official gazette, and no EIA has been started, let alone concluded. This type of behaviour verges on the irrational.

And what about sociological and economic studies? How can one start work on this massive project when the economic studies necessary to ensure that this new infrastructure will be used in the most sustainable manner have not been made public? What is going to be the impact on the way of life of Gozitans and other residents on the sister island?

How will the hotel, farmhouse, flat rental industry in Gozo be affected? What is the traffic impact assessment on the traffic both in Gozo and Malta?

It would seem that we Maltese and Gozitans are to be treated as morons by our government and by the PN Opposition, who do not deem it fit to inform us of all the possible effects of such project, but are just interested in trying to take the merit for having come up with the idea of this, in my opinion, white elephant. They have just decided that the project must be implemented asap – for electoral expediency – and they are not bothering to study the possible consequences.

Another issue not being factored in is the question of Gozo’s regionality. We all know that Gozo suffers from the disadvantages of double insularity. We all agree that Gozo’s disadvantages should be officially acknowledged by the EU and should thus make Gozo qualify for further additional funding from Brussels.

So it is good to see Minister Justyne Caruana working in this direction. But Borg is simply going to thwart all her efforts. How can Caruana ask for monetary compensation from the EU to compensate for the sister island’s condition of double isolation, when Borg is going to end that isolation through the building of this mammoth project?

Once the tunnel project is on, we can all say bye-bye to Gozo’s condition of double insularity. Gozo will become part of the mainland and therefore… bye-bye to all the extra European funds linked to it.

For the past 10 years, Maltese politicians have taken the Gozitans for a ride with the false promise of fast ferries. Chris Said and Franco Mercieca have capitalised on this to come up with this tunnel electoral carrot.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia is fully subscribing to this idea, while Borg is pushing it vehemently through in order to build up his CV in his quest to take over from Joseph as PL leader and Prime Minister.

All this political scheming to satisfy personal ambition stinks like hell.

History, together with present and future Maltese and Gozitan generations, will damn you all for the wanton destruction of our country.

Arnold Cassola
Published in the Times of Malta – Thursday 13 December