On Tuesday the Opposition in Parliament requested an urgent debate on the future of Air Malta. The Speaker rightly refused the request. What sense does it make to have such a public debate when sensitive negotiations are still ongoing, even though it is known that they are approaching the end?
The Opposition should, in my view, have insisted to be kept in the loop, to be kept informed continuously of developments, as to the current state of play of the negotiations. This should have been done in the public interest and on the basis of confidentiality. Unfortunately, the Opposition prefers theatrics!
The PN has much to offer on the matter, in view of the fact that together with Labour, it has, over the years, contributed substantially to the current state of Air Malta, ensuring its dependency on clientelism. Both PN and Labour shoulder responsibility for the current state of affairs.
Air Malta’s current state is a textbook case of the impacts of clientelism on a state enterprise which is, or rather, has been managed on the basis of political favouritism throughout the years. The administration of Air Malta is also a reflection of the manner in which the country is managed. Clientelism has ruined Air Malta just as it is ruining the whole country.
Over the years Air Malta engaged employees much more than it required. Most administrative decisions were taken by holders of political office who at times even lacked good faith. Don’t you remember, for example, the declarations by disgraced Minister Konrad Mizzi in 2019 that Air Malta had at last turned a profit, when it was pretty obvious to one and all that he was lying through his teeth? Mizzi was Minister for Tourism as well as in charge of the restructuring of Air Malta. Unfortunately, as we well know today, fraud permeated practically all areas for which Mizzi was politically responsible over the years!
A former Air Malta Director, recently deceased, had described Air Malta as the politicians’ milch cow in an article he penned some years ago. The number of Air Malta employees spiralled out of control in the run-up to most general elections.
The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Various restructuring exercises and early retirement schemes have been implemented at considerable expense, only for Air Malta to remain in considerable difficulties notwithstanding the massive state aid utilised in the process. This is the basic reason as to why the European Commission is reluctant to approve further use of state aid for Air Malta.
The advent of low-cost flights over the years made matters more difficult for Air Malta. Low-cost fares are dependent on ensuring the minimisation of costs throughout the airline’s operations. As a result of being overloaded with excess labour, accumulated as electoral favours, Air Malta could never compete with low-cost airlines!
The four-year strategy announced by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana on the eve of the 2022 general election was too little, too late. At that point Air Malta was already on its knees.
Clientelism buttressed by state aid continuously made matters worse for Air Malta. The moment that we joined the EU it was only a matter of time as to when we had to face the music.
There was ample time, almost twenty years, to rectify matters. One Board of Directors after the other ignored the writing on the wall until it was too late. Twenty wasted years spanning PN and Labour led governments!
Air Malta never lacked strategies. It just lacked one crucial target: the political will to be cut loose from political control. Clientelism was its lifeblood for so long. It was also its death certificate.
It is now useless to argue further as it is clear that Air Malta will soon be no more.
Just send a thank you note to Castille Place: addressed to the Cabinet, for the attention of past and present members.
published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 April 2023