In this interview, Hon. Clint Camilleri, Minister for Gozo, speaks out to SiGMA Group’s COO Sophie Crouzet, about the challenging times and the economic hurdles overcome by increased connectivity for the island of Gozo
You became the minister of Gozo in January 2020, it was the beginning of a very challenging year with Covid-19 affecting economies everywhere, two years later, what’s the current state of the island?
A couple of weeks after I was appointed as the Minister for Gozo, the whole world was at a standstill with the pandemic. Through our resilient economy, Gozo coped extremely well. The government has worked exceedingly hard to support our businesses and most importantly our employees. We cruised through the pandemic and managed to keep the majority of employment here in Gozo reaching record pre-pandemic unemployment on the island. Yes, they were challenging months but the future looks to be brighter.
Do you have any measures to move forward with the stimulation of the Gozitan economy?
During these pandemic months, we have invested heavily when it comes to infrastructure linked both to businesses and connectivity by introducing several new services and infrastructure projects. We’ve introduced a new fast ferry service which complements the existing scheduled ferry services to increase connectivity. Last January we also introduced the second fiber optic cable aimed at attracting new investments linked to the digital economy and iGaming.
Previously we were only dependent on one fiber optic cable, the second one gives assurance and peace of mind to all the businesses operating in these sectors with a continuous connection not only to Malta but also to the rest of the world when it comes to the digital link and accessibility. Like any other island, we are very much dependent on connectivity and accessibility. We are also in a historical moment as we are now in the planning phase on the development of the airfield which will not create a new avenue of connectivity, but shall enable for the first time, aviation-related investments and Technological R&D in Gozo.
The digital industry is one of the few that survived the pandemic and we know that malta is considered the hub of gaming. Do you see Gozo embracing the gaming ecosystem?
Yes, I believe during the past years iGaming and the digital economy boomed in Malta and several Gozitans have benefitted from these employment opportunities on the mainland. On the other hand, Gozo did not attract its fair share of this industry. To help with this, we have invested in high-end premises where companies can relocate or open and operate in Gozo. Apart from all the national financial and fiscal incentives offered by the Maltese jurisdiction, the Ministry for Gozo is also offering exclusive financial incentives to companies who decide to choose to operate from Gozo. Traditionally, our economy was more reliant on tourism, but the need to diversify the economy, with other sectors to start operating on the sister island is fundamental. Gozo has prepared and continues to work on an ecosystem that supports new economic niches within the digital sector to flourish.
Are there any schemes aimed at incentivising this boost?
National attractiveness for businesses to base operations in our country derives from several factors: our climate, culture, way of life, local talent, working ethics, corporate taxation system, and many other financial incentives. Some of the incentives we’ve set up include fiscal and payback schemes whereby quality and sustainable employment are supported by lucrative grants. We have put a lot of effort into investing money to promote our culture, way of living, landscape, and people. We’re doing this for both the business sector but also for tourism. I believe business and leisure can go extremely well in Gozo. In fact, I believe that Gozo is an island that offers the perfect work-life balance.
The tourism industry all over the world has kicked off during these months. Does Gozo have a separate strategy to bring its own share of visitors?
The worst-hit sector during the pandemic was tourism with a lot of restrictions in all countries being introduced, this situation did not only affect Gozo and Malta but the whole world. Our island is hugely dependent on the tourism sector, however, as an island, when the airport was closed, we targeted a different niche which was internal tourism, this helped us provide a significant boost to our economy with Maltese people deciding to travel to Gozo instead of abroad.
During this time, we have twice issued a number of vouchers targeting the retail and tourism sector. That stimulus was very important for our businesses. Our successful vaccine rollout also played an important role in restimulating foreign tourism to visit our island. With the absolute majority of the population vaccinated, Malta and Gozo have garnered reputable status as safe destinations.
A few weeks ago a new office for the LGBTIQ+ community opened in Gozo. What’s the involvement of Gozo in these matters?
The Government, and we as Ministers may tend to focus on bigger projects, and investments, however, this relatively small initiative of offering adequate office space for operations is symbolic in demonstrating how a small island has escaped conservatism, developing into a more inclusive island.
Giving this NGO community such premises in a central part of the island next to the Ministry of Gozo draws a paramount message that we, as an island, are all out for equality, diversity, and civil rights. We are also working with the Ministry for Equality, Research and Innovation in Malta headed by Dr. Owen Bonnici, in order to be part of the pride 2023 which will be held here in Malta, and want Gozo to be part of this very special event as well.
How do you see Gozo in the coming years?
At the moment we are conducting a public consultation through the Gozo Regional Development Authority in order to gather all opinions and suggestions from the public, NGOs, businesses, and from all those stakeholders who have Gozo at heart in order to develop a comprehensive vision that shall lead Gozo in the next 10 years. I believe that we need to continue progressing, we need to continue attracting investment to make our island an economic fit for the whole of Malta, however, we also need to take care of other aspects, when it comes to the natural environment, iconic buildings, and iconic streetscape that we have in these islands.
These are part of our success and we need to conserve them. In my opinion, Gozo remains Gozo as we know it if a strong base of Gozitans resides on the Island. This is why we are investing in connectivity, accessibility, and economic diversification, to continue luring back other generations of Gozitan talent that switched permanent or partial residence in Malta. Connectivity is key to our economic success.
Watch full interview here:
SiGMA Africa up next:
During the span of a very exciting and surprisingly sunny November week, SiGMA Group managed to organise four separate conferences with 13,500 delegates drawn from across the world. Up next is SiGMA Africa. With three major shows in the works, the events are designed to enhance Africa’s high-growth gaming industry. SiGMA Africa unites the leading minds in this sector for a discussion on regulatory frameworks, economic development, and the creation of new opportunities for businesses looking to invest across the continent. With a record for attracting an audience from over 80 countries, SiGMA has the potential to set the stage with a global guest list of some of the best operators, suppliers, affiliates, regulators, and thought leaders in the gaming sector – bringing high-end innovation to the African gambling industry and driving sustainable growth throughout its nations.