Maritime proposals for the forthcoming budget

Last Updated on Thursday, 31 August, 2023 at 11:40 am by Andre Camilleri

Kevin J Borg is the Chief Executive Officer of the Malta Maritime Forum

During the month of August, the Malta Maritime Forum (MMF) was delighted to submit a document elaborating a set of 13 concrete, maritime-focused proposals for the 2024 national Budget.  The presentation was made in person to Minister Aaron Farrugia whilst the document was also submitted to the Minister of Finance. 

This is the third consecutive year in which the MMF contributed its ideas towards the national budget proactively as it strives to “fly-the-flag” and promote the interests of the maritime community.  The MMF, in fact, is confident that it has the full backing of the Maritime Industry and the necessary expertise to contribute to the Budget Consultation process despite not being officially recognised as a social partner or a member of the MCESD.

The MMF’s vision for the forthcoming budget is all about supporting the Industry and businesses within it to grow sustainably.  The recommendations, in fact, generally emphasise the need for better planning and stronger focus on the maritime industry when it comes to charting the way forward for the industry in line with holistic strategies at the national level.  The MMF is making further representations in favour of enhanced investor relationships with the authorities and for more active promotion of Malta’s maritime industry overseas.  The Forum also appeals for the promotion of Blue Skills as well as the establishment of internationally recognized standards, where these are not yet in place.

The MMF’s flagship proposal this year centres around the need for the articulation and implementation of a National Maritime Strategy which Malta still lacks despite the strategic importance of our industry to the country and its economy. The Blueprint is required to provide statements of principle, objectives and directions to the country, at least at a conceptual level.  The document would be aimed at spelling out what the Government’s vision and goals in the maritime sector are for the immediate, medium and long-term, how they are to be achieved, by whom, by when and the strategy and resources required to realize them.  The Strategy would give direction to investors as to the channelling of the right resources in the appropriate doses towards achieving the country’s aims.  Besides, it would ensure that the Industry is governed in an efficient, consistent, sustainable, safe and environmentally sound manner. 

The Strategy should be articulated with the active participation of the MMF and all stakeholders in the industry and should include an action plan with specific objectives and target dates.  International best practice clearly shows that other advanced countries typically follow a 20-year strategy which would be regularly updated – sometimes even annually.  Several other fellow EU member states, including neighbouring Italy and Cyprus, have a Cabinet minister dedicated to maritime policy hence Malta would certainly not be alone in aspiring to have a maritime strategy.

The MMF document strongly features the need for detaching maritime industry responsibilities from Transport Malta and re-establish a National Maritime Authority in order to ascertain Specialisation; Focus; Urgency and improved reaction time, whilst imparting the right message to the international market.  For similar reasons, the Forum is also recommending the channelling of public funds towards the establishment of a dedicated Maritime Court.  On this front, the MMF is encouraged by the response of the authorities in this regard so much so that it was recently informed of concrete steps being taken at the legal, logistical and administrative levels to set up a specialised court to deal with commercial and maritime cases.  Once implemented, the MMF is convinced that the initiative will result in huge non-tangible benefits for Malta as a maritime jurisdiction and would serve in no small measure to enhance the Malta package of maritime services and providing a further superior proposition to owners who chose to register their ships under the Malta Flag.

Furthermore, this year, the MMF suggested that the country invest resources into the facilitation of an increased share of traffic towards waterborne means of transport.  The Forum welcomes recent initiatives taken to facilitate passenger traffic between the Islands but believes that this should fit within a wider multimodal transport strategy where each mode links seamlessly with the other to ensure efficiency, convenience and reliability for the commuter.

To this end, the MMF took the initiative to enter into preliminary discussions with the Foundation for Transport to explore the viability and resource requirements for the shifting of cargo traffic from road to sea as part of the solution towards decarbonisation and traffic congestion.  The MMF is recommending the introduction of a Ro-Ro service to transport cargo between  Malta Freeport and Mġarr Harbour in Gozo possibly with stop-overs in the Grand Harbour and the north of Malta.  This initiative promises to :

  • alleviate traffic on Maltese roads from Birzebbuġa, the Inner Harbour areas and Ċirkewwa, and
  • reduce emissions of harmful CO2 pollutants because of the lower generation of CO2 per tonne mile generated by one ship compared to multiple trucks

Given that this proposal is in line with European Green Deal objectives as actively promoted by the European Network of Maritime Clusters (ENMC) of which the MMF is an active member, the Forum is committed towards continuing such discussions with the competent national players and authorities not least Malta Freeport Terminals and Transport Malta.

In its 2024 Budget Proposal document, the MMF also pronounced itself on other matters of prime national importance such as the proposed Exclusive Economic Zone, land reclamation, a proposal for the greater utilisation of so-called “Transition” and Alternative fuels, the introduction of Standard Operating Procedures for Bunkering and the need for investment in ensuring the Skills and Competences Required in the Maritime Industry.

To complement all these proposals, the MMF further suggested the setting up of a mechanism for structured consultation on the lines of a Maritime Advisory Committee that would be tasked with laying down plans and directions for the development of maritime activities as well as identifying and applying solutions to bottlenecks that shackle maritime services in Malta.

As amply shown by its track-record, the MMF always engages in consultation with a positive and constructive mindset even in situations where it was not best pleased with the circumstances.  The Forum has always taken this approach and offered the authorities its meaningful contributions and workable solutions which derive from objective research and from the opinions and experiences of the captains of Industry that it represents. 

In fact, the Budget Proposals document put forward by the MMF was largely generated from the feedback and technical input received from its members as part of an active and exhaustive internal consultation process.  As the national maritime cluster, the MMF prioritises continuous engagement with its members to ensure it is constantly able to serve its purpose as a common platform for Malta based entities involved in the maritime transport and logistics sector in Malta.  By means of this latest document, the MMF, is fulfilling one of its main purposes of influencing national maritime policy by facilitating communication between the Maritime Community and Government to assist and promote the development of this industry in general.

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