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MALTATODAY 22 January 2023

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maltatoday | SUNDAY • 22 JANUARY 2023 OPINION 10 Raphael Vassallo OPINION It's not just the Gozo airport that's 'destined to fail'… YOU'VE got to love it, though. Just when Malta's 'big barons' got every bit as comfortable under today's Labour administration, as they used to be under the Na- tionalists… out pops Alfred Sant, to remind his own government of how deeply uncomfortable he himself is (and, presumably, the rest of the older generation of La- bourites) with the same old status quo. In case you missed it, I'm refer- ring to the former Prime Min- ister's recent Facebook post, in which he… actually, it would be a whole lot simpler to just repro- duce the darn thing. Here: "It amazes me that so many Gozitan entrepreneurs sup- port the plan for a Gozo airport. In no way can I see how fixed- wing trips, with a regular sched- ule or not, for passengers from Malta to Gozo, can be commer- cially viable. "The fact that this project is al- lowed to fail, if it ever even gets off the ground, is being ignored by all and sundry. "Meanwhile, more Gozitan countryside will be gobbled up and destroyed before this project finally collapses, so that even- tually some residential block, some commercial project is built around it, and a thousands more requests from Ċikku and Peppi to take their slice of this agricultural land to build upon. "And let's not forget the con- struction barons! Gozo deserves more respect." (Signed: Sant, Al- fred) Ah, yes: those 'big barons' again. It's been quite a while, hasn't it, since we last heard Alfred Sant using that term (here and there varying to 'big bosses') to describe the more powerful members of Malta's industrial-commercial- political complex? Even if, oddly enough, the 'barons' themselves remain more or less the same people – wielding more or less the same political influence (if not 'much more') – as in the distant 1990s. In some cases, they literally ARE the same people. As I recall, Al- fred Sant used to regularly name- drop the Hili Group – among others - as prime examples of the sort of 'big barons' he had in mind. And yet, just look at the Hi- li Group today: busily expanding their operations on Comino – in the process, eliciting the wrath of other Labour veterans, like Evar- ist Bartolo – just as they had ear- lier expanded their empire under Eddie Fenech Adami, Lawrence Gonzi, and... well, everybody since, basically. In other cases, the individual actors may be different (Joseph Portelli, for instance, is very much the 'new kid on the apart- ment-block'). But clearly, there have been no major re-writes of the script, since the 'good old days' (when people like Charles Polidano used to force MEPA to withdraw all its enforcement notices – and fines – simply by threatening to sack their entire workforce, in one fell swoop). The only difference, of course, is that the same thing is happening under Sant's own Labour Par- ty (though to be fair, not under Sant's own leadership). And al- ready, it's almost enough to make any older-generation Labour- ite wonder whether it was even worth electing 'their' party into government, back in 2013: just to watch it morph into a clone of precisely the same Nationalist Party they had so roundly defeat- ed (and whose downfall, after 25 years, they had celebrated so rau- cously, too!) But, oh well: such are the ironies of life, I suppose. What I find more intriguing about Sant's latest ti- rade, is not just that those 'big bar- ons' haven't really changed at all, in the past 30 years (except, per- haps, that some of them have only grown conspicuously 'BIGGER', in the meantime). No, it's that even the issues themselves have remained exactly the same, too. The Gozo Airport, for instance. You'd never guess, just by reading press articles over the past year – i.e., ever since the Labour gov- ernment unveiled its own hare- brained plans to build a 'small, fixed-wing airport service', on the site of the derelict Xewkija hel- ipad – but the original proposal, unchanged in any detail, was ac- tually first announced by Eddie Fenech Adami, back in around 1993. As for Alfred Sant (who had on- ly just become Opposition leader, at the time): suffice it to say that one of the first things he ever did, as Prime Minister between '96 and '98 [Note: I don't precisely re- member if it was before, or after, his spectacular U-turn on fiscal cash-registers] was to 'put a stop to that madness', once and for all. Or so we all thought, back then. But no: it seems that – of all the unearthly things that Labour would actually choose to emulate, from the entire Fenech Adami era – the Gozo Airport is once again 'back on the menu'. Only this time, the government has even set a 'deadline' for its completion (by the end of 2023, if you please)… something that Eddie certainly never did, back in the day; and which is also entire- ly illogical (given that the project itself hasn't even been officially approved yet; and that the same government has also promised us a 'public consultation exercise'… for a project that, very evidently, has already been 'green-lighted' anyway.) And oh, look: just to make sure this self-fulfilling prophecy comes to fruition, exactly as planned… the Environmental and Resources Authority has conveniently ex- empted the entire project from the need for any 'Environmental Impact Assessment'. (Because, you know: who the heck's ev- er heard of any 'environmental impact', of any kind whatsoever, ever having been caused by… a freaking AIRPORT, for crying out loud?!) Well, what can I say? No won- der Alfred Sant is so pissed off. Not only is it now his own gov- ernment, that's all comfortably snuggled-up with the same pesky 'big barons' he had once promised to cut down to size... but the same project he had once 'defeated', has now been resuscitated by the same party he himself once led! But leaving aside all those his- torical ironies: what fascinates me most are Sant's actual stated reasons for opposing this project. He starts off by questioning, not its 'environmental impact' at all… but rather, its 'commercial viabil- ity'. In other words: what makes this project so objectionable – at least, according to this particular argu- ment (Sant has, to be fair, been opposing the Gozo airstrip for a solid 30 years; presumably, he has made other arguments as well) – is the fact that it is 'destined to prove an economic failure'. And this puzzles me, for two reasons. 1) What if, conversely, the pro- ject were destined to be a 're- sounding economic success'? (Don't get me wrong: I fully agree with Sant's predictions… but just go along with the argument any- way, will you?) Are we to under- stand that – in the event that a Gozo airport proves both 'com- mercially viable', and 'highly prof- itable' – all those other objections would automatically fall by the wayside, as well?

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