Gozo is a very conveniently packaged proposition for politicians. It is a small island within a small country, with a well-defined electorate that is a very manageable number, reachable easily even by word of mouth.
It elects six MPs and is perceived to be quite a catch even when it comes to contributing to the “No 1” votes that establish who governs when it comes to national elections.
It follows, then, that politicians of all stripes seek to lure Gozitan voters into their web, by making promises and quoting achievements designed to appeal to their particular aspirations, referencing their specific concerns, even at times manufacturing them.
It is the received wisdom that the main issue that concerns Gozitans is getting out of – and back to – Gozo. The Gozo Channel ferry service, in its various historic manifestations has delivered a service that has always struggled to keep up with demand and the trials imposed on it by the weather.
For all that, it is not a bad service at all, and cancellations and delays are – despite the heightened perception of problems brought about by the immediacy of social media – not frequent.
It could be better, of course, but hand on heart, its not bad. This does not mean that it is not used as a convenient bill-board all over which to paste political promises, not to mention a great repository of jobs for the boys and girls.
The most recent promise I can recall in this context is the one about setting up a fast ferry service, for all the world as if this hasn’t been done at least twice that I can remember, once in the Sixties (the ‘aliscafo’) and once in the Nineties.
Both these ventures started out with great promise and petered out in deafening silence. Why should the next manifestation of the same thing not suffer the same fate, you really have to ask, especially when with less than a month to go, Gozo Channel hasn’t even found its strategic partner to take up the idea.
And what’s all this about Gozo Channel considering a fourth vessel, a news item that seems to have imitated a submarine rather than a proudly sailing ship?
Just to close on the subject of Gozo Channel, why has the ‘state of the operation’ indicator been removed from the website, this was pretty much the only reason to click on, to save schlepping up to Cirkewwa to find the service has been suspended?
The idea that you can get to and from Gozo in other ways gains ground every time a politician thinks there’s some mileage in flying the kite. We’ve had mention of bridges, tunnels, helicopters and fixed-wing machines, shiny toys dangled in front of an electorate that is clearly considered to be gullible and easily beguiled.
So, that bridge: in high winds, it will probably be as vulnerable, if not more so, to ‘operational delays’ as the ferries, quite apart from being a blot on the landscape and costing an arm and a leg, both to build and to use.
The tunnel, on the other hand, will not be susceptible to weather dangers, but the spin has already started that it will dangerous to build, if it is buildable at all due to the iffy nature of the geology in the area. In other words, it’s probably not going to happen but the politicians are too spineless to say so.
Which leaves us with helicopters or fixed-wing operations, the latter needing a new, longer, air-strip which will cost a chunk of our money to build. The snag here is that various people have tried to operate choppers and they hardly got off the ground, if you’ll forgive the awful pun. We even had a sea-plane which didn’t need a landing strip, and that didn’t fly either, except for a few months.
There’s plenty more to write about promises made to the Gozitans, about new law courts, new medical schools, improved roads and jobs for all and more, but on the evidence of the way the inter-island transport question is treated, I suppose we can be forgiven for taking them with a salt-cellar’s worth of the good stuff produced in Qbajjar.
All I know is that whatever the promises are, as always the recipient of them should be wary of the bearer of the gifts. Or in different words, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.