26 MARCH 2003

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Sant skirts illegal boathouses issue

MLP proposes yearly capital projects to boost tourism

By Kurt Sansone
Explaining the Labour Party’s proposals for tourism, Opposition leader Dr Alfred Sant insisted more than once on the need for government leadership in the sector but when talking about the illegal boathouses occupying valuable coastal land all he could muster was: "we will safeguard the social rights of citizens."
Flanked by tourism spokesman Karmenu Vella and MP Joseph Cuschieri, the Labour leader said that a new Labour government would embark on capital projects on an annual basis to improve the tourism product.
Sant highlighted the area surrounding Grand Harbour, which he described as an asset that has not been put to good use. A new Labour government, Sant said, would embark on a development plan for the whole area.
Sant added that a new Labour government would encourage the creation of a golf course, a casino and marina. Both Sant and Karmenu Vella dwelt on the importance of improving the number of yachting berths and facilities.
A Labour government intends developing niche tourist markets such as scuba diving, educational and cultural tourism while Gozo will be marketed as a separate destination. Sant added that the country required a general upgrade in its infrastructure and a Labour government was going to see to it that the country was tidied up.
However, when asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times about the party’s position on the illegal boathouses that occupy large tracts of coastal land Sant chose to answer enigmatically leading one to believe that the boathouses would be left standing and a solution to regularise them would be found.
Referring to the war in Iraq and its probable impact on tourism the Labour leader accused government of lacking leadership because of what he claimed a lax attitude that did not address the problems.
Sant also chose to defend Karmenu Vella when a journalist asked about Vella’s seemingly dual role as tourism spokesman and director with the leading hotel company Corinthia, in relation to EU membership.
Corinthia, of which Vella is a director, supports Malta’s bid for EU membership. Sant defended the Zurrieq politician and said that such criticism against Vella was puerile.
Meanwhile, Vella said that since 1998 the tourism industry has witnessed a drop in profitability as higher costs burdened operators. He insisted that Malta’s image abroad was on a downward spiral because the positioning of Malta’s tourist package was wrong when compared to that of other competitors. Vella added that the quality of tourists was also on the downturn.
Acknowledging the external difficulties such as the general slowdown in economies abroad and the 11 September attacks, Vella argued that government was slow to react and adapt to the circumstances. "These problems were used as an excuse while nothing was done to tackle them," Vella insisted.
MP Joe Cuschieri also addressed the press conference and reading from a scripted speech he dwelt on the achievements of the brief Labour administration between 1996 and 1998 and accused government of not continuing on the good work started in places such as Bugibba, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga and Marsaxlokk.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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