Gonzi addresses London-based investors as visit comes to an end

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi this morning addressed a business breakfast in London, where he touched upon Malta's strengths and was questioned about Libyan opportunities, economic crises and oil exploration.

The event, hosted at Corinthia Hotel in London, brought together some 50 members of the Malta Business Network, which launched its website today at the British High Commission.

Dr Gonzi said the world could not expect a rushed transition in Libya and countries must simply assist the Libyans without taking advantage of them or being patronising.

Malta was asked to offer its expertise in education (including English language teaching) and health, and was doing so accordingly.

He said the next few years would see the transitions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt completed, resulting in "enormous opportunities" with Malta in a perfect strategic location.

"Malta offers you a platform from where you can flow in and out of Libya. Your experts can enjoy a good quality of life in Malta and have easy flight connections to Tripoli," he said.

Dr Gonzi was also asked what lessons he learnt from the 2008 global financial meltdown.

He said he appreciated the "conservative" approach of the Maltese, which used to be seen as something negative but proved to be the correct approach.

"They were right," he said, about the Maltese who always resisted investing in high-interest schemes and chose to leave their money in fixed deposits instead, allowing the banks to remain unexposed to risks.

He said Malta also benefitted from its size, allowing it to direct its stimulus packages where the money was really required.

Per capita, Malta spent more money than most countries in Europe, but the money was targeted more efficiently, he said, adding that companies which trained their workers instead of rendering them redundant ended up in a better position to compete once the economy began to revive.

"Small is beautiful. In Malta, if you have a problem, you can call up the Finance Minister and discuss," he said.

Malta also capitalised on its flexibility and "nimbleness", allowing it to adapt to challenges and take decisions quickly to respond to market changes.

Dr Gonzi added that though the Maltese made a hobby of political controversy, there was no political controversy over major economic policy, meaning businesses can be assured of "long term stability", even if there are political changes in the future.

The Prime Minister was also asked whether he would put a cap on the growth of the financial services sector, to which he replied that rather than capping growth, he wanted to ensure diversification and growth in other sectors.

He spoke of the life sciences park currently being developed and said Maltese children as young as five and 10 should be encouraged towards the study of science, so as to maximise on these opportunities.

The same applied to software development, he said, even though Smart City was currently suffering a "temporary glitch" due to the economic downturn.

Dr Gonzi confirmed that Malta's exposure to Greece was "very minimal, if at all" and when asked about the crisis, he said he remained optimistic that Greece will get back on its feet, primarily because it has "the fundamentals of a success story".

The silver-lining of the crisis, he said, was that decision makers are now being constrained toward fiscal consolidation.

He said this was important for politicians who face elections and always want to be successful.

Asked about energy, Dr Gonzi said Malta's plan was to have an oil power station extension which could be "easily" converted to gas. He said this would diminish Malta's dependence of "fossil fuels".

In the future, Malta hoped to have a gas pipeline with Sicily so that gas can be taken straight into people's homes.

This, together with the interconnector cable with Sicily which could make good for the energy supply lost with the closing of the Marsa power station.

Although renewable energy targets would be met, Dr Gonzi said solar and wind energy could not be relied on to provide volumes of energy.

Asked about oil exploration by a Maltese engineer working with British Petroleum, Dr Gonzi took the subject lightly and said that while there has been interest in oil drilling, "the best oil well is the human brain".

He said oil wells could be emptied but investment in knowledge gets the best results. So while exploration would continue, the government would remain focused on investing in human resources.

(Source: Times of Malta)

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