Last Updated on Saturday, 2 April, 2022 at 8:12 am by Andre Camilleri
George M. Mangion is a partner in PKF, an audit and business advisory firm
Malta – a tiny island in central Mediterranean has had its fair share of papal visits. The first papal visit took place in 1990 when Pope John Paul II was given a rousing welcome. He visited again in 2001 when he beatified Dun Ġorġ Preca, Adeodata Pisani and Nazju Falzon. This time, the papal visit will happen on 2 and 3 April and the itinerary includes visits to Valletta, Rabat, Floriana, Ħal Far and Gozo. The theme chosen for this historical visit embraces the hospitality shown to St Paul by the Maltese when a ship carrying him to Rome was shipwrecked here in 60 AD. The gospel tells us how in 60 AD the natives had shown the shipwrecked crew unusual kindness.
This reflects today’s scene when Malta offered help to the plight of the migrants who traverse the Mediterranean towards Europe. Many agree it will bring a sense of purpose and following a short electoral spree it serves to calm nerves and be a source of encouragement for new evangelization. The Bible tells us that the providential shipwreck happened when St Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel. The ship carrying him and some 274 others was caught in a violent storm. All aboard swam safely to land where they were welcomed by the people, as documented in the Bible that reads: “And later we learned that the island was called Malta. And the people who lived there showed us great kindness, and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves… ” This is a proud heritage to a young nation with just 58 years since Independence from a British colonial rule – now having our own home-grown constitution.
Will the papal visit bring peace and tranquillity to a small nation politically split over two opposing parties? Time will tell but the omens are favourable. Pope Francis will travel to Malta and then proceed to Gozo on the catamaran Maria Dolores from the Grand Harbour at 3.50pm on Saturday, 2 April, arriving at Mgarr at 5pm. He will be driven through the main roads to Victoria and on to Ta’ Pinu (see picture) where he will pray in the chapel of the sanctuary before leading the prayer meeting. May his visit be a harbinger of spiritual revival for our young nation which has suffered from the pangs of a cruel pandemic.
Good news arrives from Bank of Valletta, a principal bank in Malta. It has reported healthy results showing a profit before tax of €80.7m for the financial year ended 31 December 2021, versus the previous year’s figure of €15.2m. The underlying operating performance of the bank demonstrates a resilient income stream with a solid recovery from the impact of the pandemic in 2020 and growth in some areas, which was partly offset by higher costs. The Group’s treasury investment portfolio increased by €260m year-on-year. Such an increase relates to highly-rated securities. Net loans and advances increased by €335.3m or 6.9%, during the year and stood at €5.2bn as at 31 December 2021. The Group liquidity ratio stands at 444%, reflecting high deposit growth over the year which outpaced the demand for loans.
Moving on, let us discuss further news concerning the tourism sector. This is heralded by the announcement of Malta International Airport to build a new airport apron extension costing €40m. The board of directors approved this project consisting of an area measuring around 100,000 square metres, which will significantly improve the airport’s aircraft parking capacity and its ability to better handle mixed-fleet operations.
Further tidings come from the European Commission. It predicts Malta’s economic growth for 2022 will reach a remarkable 6% of GDP. This is two percentage points higher than the average projected growth of 4% for the entire EU. All this comes ahead of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) of €320m which Malta qualified for as aid to help its economy rally. The full recovery fund will be spent on six areas agreed on with the European Commission last year. The smart programme includes the building of an ITS campus in Smart City, investments in the circular economy, decarbonisation, digital investments, educational initiatives and social policy spending.
One augurs that such RRF funds will trickle down in the next four years and that government makes optimal use of such pennies from heaven. On the upside, household consumption could grow more strongly, as observed following previous waves, while investments fostered by the RRF could generate a stronger impulse to activity. Current inflation projections are subject to upside risks as cost pressures are expected on producers and passed to consumer prices, apart from the high cost of energy increasing the likelihood of strong negative effects. Pundits forecast that provided the Ukrainian war does not escalate, then our economy is expected to recover its pace in the third quarter of this year, where it is also planned to match or even exceed the projected forecast of 6%.
One hopes that the visit of Pope Francis will not only revive our spiritual wellness but also help us return to stable growth. This can be marked as a new Renaissance that will bring a new era of peace and prosperity.