Fabian Demicoli

Air Malta: The Truth Must Out

 Is it viable? That is the big question that the EU Evaluators will be asking in the coming few weeks. Many speak and pronounce. It is all nicely said. Air Malta is vital for us as an Island State. If we really are to enjoy our freedom of movement as Europeans within the Union. Air Malta is essential for us. Air Malta is essential for our Tourism, for our Financial Services, for our Commerce, for our Industry, for our Services: all major contributors to Malta's GDP.

 

But for the adjudicators what matters are facts and figures. What really matters is what leads to the bottom line on the Air Malta Accounts Stories and emotions don't count unless they can be translated in figures that can appear as items on the accounts.

Government's task is very hard. If they can back up their arguments with money figures then they have to give the money to Air Malta to become part of the accounts of the company. The point is that if they do that they will be blocked by the EU. That will be considered as nothing but direct State-aid. This as we all know is prohibited under EU Rules.

A reduction of expenses is not easy either. The standards of approved services are what they are and Air Malta cannot simply operate cheaply. Reductions can be affected and even drastically but there is a limit as operability cannot be achieved if an airline falls below a viable size. And again here there is a lot of loose talk as to what can be done with excess labour.  Is it possible for workers of a commercial company to be offered alternative jobs in the Public Sector with the tax-payer's expense? Is this not State-aid? What reply does Government have if confronted by a similar request by workers who lose their job from privately owned companies. Again there is a lot of loose talk about early retirement schemes. It is not so easy here either.

The Malta Pensions Balance Sheet, to put it this way, is in the red. Government knew since 2000 that by 2011 the Pensions Account will be in deficit. Yet Government let it go in the red. Now they want to over-load an already serious deficit with additional burdens. The EU Commission in its analysis of the Budget and Consolidation Plan proposals presented by the Maltese Government for 2011 under the new Budget Deficit Surveillance Plan of the EU has already shown the Red Light to Malta on the introduction of any new early retirement scheme – they are banned.

Yes, the situation is bleak. The truth is not out yet. The tax payer is not being told the truth. Salvation may be the form of a serious Strategic Partner who is willing to take over the responsibility and guarantees of financial viability of Air Malta. This really means that someone powerful and capable enough to carry the trust of the EU Commission need to come forward and accept liability for the future viability of a restructured Air Malta. And it cannot be the Government or any other company invented by the Malta Government to carry the debt burdens of Air Malta. And it is not a question either of a re-scheduling of Air Malta' debts. It is though and much tougher than most people, even those who ought to know better, preferred to say.

The Government is the state of Malta and cannot guarantee viability. The Government of Malta does not have a hold on the market and cannot guarantee anything. It is only a reliable strategic partner of note and of great credibility that can issue acceptable guarantees to back up any viable plan that can be professionally evaluated as viable. And Industrial strives and irresponsible behavior will not help solve matters. Greece has given us all a great lesson; when things go bad strife will only make it worse. The solutions so far mentioned smell of subsidies and further debts. They all sound like additional, if not permanent, subsidies from tax-payers' money. This is exactly what the EU will not accept. Not because they are hard on us but because they are our guardians too.

The full truth is not yet all out. The sooner we all know it all, the better.

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