Malta, an island of 400,000 people and one of the newest members of the EU goes to the polls this week-end.
A UK based company thinks that whatever the result, Malta remains a safe and rewarding place to invest money in property.
The Nationalist Party Government of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is facing the strongest challenge from the opposition Labour Party of Alfred Sant since the last contest in 2003 – when the Labour Party’s doomed opposition to a referendum in favour of joining the EU, also cost it a General Election.
This election is being fought in the typically robust fashion for which Malta is renowned. The electorate is highly polarised and the result will be close – whichever way it goes.
The election will be fought under a single transferable vote system involving a series of election districts.
Whilst inheriting a tradition of sound public administration from 150 years of British colonial rule, the Maltese have gone on to improve on this foundation. Voting papers are delivered to each house in the presence of a police official – ensuring that the impersonation now endemic in Britain’s Cities doe not take hold here.
Key issues will be the economy, illegal immigration, property prices and residential development together with social and institutional reform.
One hang over from 150 years of British colonial rule, is the teaching of English as a joint first language from primary school onwards.
Ironically, over 100,000 overseas students visit Malta each year to learn english. Could it be that the opportunity to get mum and dad to pay for lazy afternoons on the beach and clubbing to the early hours – whilst also learning a new language, makes Malta a slightly more attractive learning environment than the UK?
Language and location have proved to be key weapons in a revitalised Government drive to increase tourism and inward investment.
Previous declines in the traditional package holiday tourism market have been reversed by better focussed marketing campaigns across Europe and by increased availability of lower cost flights to the island. Malta Airport handled 23% more passengers in January of this year than 12 months previously. Ryanair now has daily flights from Luton and Dublin, whilst Easyjet has acquired BA’s route from Manchester. BA continues to fly daily from Gatwick. National flag carrier Air Malta has responded to this competition by lowering fares and increasing flight availability.
A spate of what some might see as cynical pre-election announcements by the Nationalist Government, including tax reductions - cannot disguise that fact that Malta’s entry into Europe has stimulated an inflow of foreign investment. Most notable is the establishment of ‘Smart City’ a £200m development promoted by Dubai based Tecom Investments, which has also acquired Maltacom – the Country’s previously state run equivalent of BT.
A strong privatisation programme has been used to deal with a legacy of moribund state supported sectors – most notably the ailing shipyards.
Confidence has also returned to the islands domestic commercial sector. The launch of low cost flights and a major shake up at the island’s tourist authority, has led to higher occupancy rates in hotels – reversing previous trends. Passenger movements through the island’s airport increased by 23% in January.
The island is increasingly a stopping off point for the growing Mediterranean cruise market.
Local brewer and soft drink bottler, Farsons has just celebrated the launch of a E24.5 million investment in a new state of the art packaging and logistics centre, followed by a new brewhouse.
A major programme to provide broadband access to every home is underway and the Country is home to one of HSBC Bank’s world-wide call centres.
Ray Woods from www.maltabuyproperty.co.uk says,
“The property market is booming, with residential prices having doubled in 5 years. Whilst foreign interest is increasing, the relatively small size of the island combined with a growing population means that this is not a foreign bubble waiting to burst!
Malta was for decades the new home of post-second World War British servicemen and their families. That is now changing rapidly. The majority of clients are driven by the need for a better quality of life than they feel that they have in the UK.
The lack of a language barrier means that they can mix freely with a friendly local Maltese population. A beneficial personal tax regime, the absence of any property taxes plus good health and education systems, all combine to attract growing numbers of Brits and their families.
Malta’s location - only 90km from Sicily and the Italian mainland and 288km from North Africa ,when combined with its EU membership, is also proving attractive to Germans, Scandinavians and Russians.”
Having failed to persuade Maltese voters to oppose entry into the EU, the Malta Labour Party was badly wrong footed in 2003, by a Nationalist Government who were able to turn the subsequent General Election into a re-run of the EU vote.
This time, things may be different. There is a feeling abroad that the Government has been exploiting its position to help its friends in the commercial sector. Comments like ‘It’s time for change’ are common and may benefit the opposition.
There is concern that the intensive development that has transformed Malta in recent years has to come to an end.
The Government is vulnerable to the charge that is has been more comfortable with ‘bulldoze and build,’ than with bottom-up urban revitalisation.
This has led to a growing environmental movement in Parliament manifested in the burgeoning green movement represented in Parliament by Alternattiva Demokratika.
For an island with few natural resources, the prospect of ever higher fuel costs casts the one dark shadow over this sunny island. However, Malta and its people have proved highly resilient over centuries and there is a growing drive to capitalise on natural energy resources.
The Government has somewhat belatedly responded to criticisms of its environmental polices and extensive tree-planting programmes are under-way.
A spat with the vocal local hunting lobby seems unlikely to benefit the opposition however.
Valletta, its capital is a world-heritage site and its decayed and neglected residential districts remain a major challenge to the urban management policies of both Parties.
Whatever the result, an incoming Government will inherit an improving economy and a new status in Europe.
As a home for inward investment, its political stability, location, sound property laws and tax regimes mean that Malta can only increase in popularity.
For more information on property in Malta, go to www.maltabuyproperty.co.uk.
Issued by Ray Woods of www.maltabuyproperty.co.uk: 00447967686230
0044 121 373 2440
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