The Malta Independent 25 August 2019, Sunday

PM on Air Malta: ‘it would be irresponsible of us to listen to unrealistic requests’

Sunday, 7 July 2019, 11:05 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that it would be irresponsible of the government to listen to unrealistic requests, when discussing Air Malta during his Sunday radio broadcast.

Muscat, while not stating it outright, was clearly referring to the recent disagreements between Air Malta and the airline pilots' association ( ALPA), while speaking on One Radio.

Muscat, speaking about Air Malta, said that the future is good for the airline. "We managed to help the airline back onto its feet." He said that work continued this legislature strongly. He said that after many years, Air Malta finally made a profit. 

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He said that the airline was previously tied to a plan with the European Commission and the government could not invest more capital in the airline.  He compared the airline to a patient who has just come out from an operation. "The doctor changed and managed to get the patient onto his feet. That is how I see Air Malta," he said.

Muscat said that the aim is for the airline to grow not shrink, and that one cannot have a company which thinks it can succeed by constantly cutting operations.

The Prime Minister said that now, now "we are looking at how to grow." He said the new plane fleet are more economical, and that now the airline is looking at new destinations.

He said that there is a clear plan to, for example, create air connections with India, and another phase would look towards the East Coast of the USA.

This, he said, is a plan for Airline to continue expand, and employ more people. It is a crucial part of the country's connectivity, he said.

"To succeed however we all need to pull the same rope." He then said that he would not go into what is being said. "Everyone knows what the requests are. "The government is always open to realistic requests, but it would be irresponsible of us to open out ears to unrealistic requests. The people can decide what is realistic and what is not."

 He said the business model for the airline changed, and it is now giving more value in business travel, while giving deals for those who just want to travel from point A to point B.

He said that what is happening shows that "our vision for Air Malta to be the airline of the Mediterranean is not just a vision but a reality that is coming true."

Muscat also refused to comment on who was being touted to take up the top EU posts, arguing that it is not ethical to say.

He said that a number of good names were put forward, including the person who was chosen to lead the European Commission, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. He said that if the EU Parliament approves her nomination, she will be the first woman in the post. This, he said, would go hand in hand with the European Central Bank being led by Christine Lagarde,a nd having two women in such posts would send a clear message.

He spoke of looking ahead to holding discussions with the new EC President on the programme for the years to come, and how it will be implemented. He said that he held a telephone conversation with Von der Layen a few days ago, and that he believes they can work well together. Muscat said that he first met her through Carmelo Abela when he was Home Affairs Minister.

Muscat said that he will continue to work as Prime Minister with more strength, and effort looking ahead to the upcoming budget.

The budget will be between October and November this year, he said, while adding that preparations for it are already under way. He is currently setting out the priorities for the budget he said.

On poverty, he said that it exists in Malta. "That is the largest challenge. Our first aim is to provide jobs which, together with education and social services, are the three pillars to combat poverty"

He said that the government inherited a situation where poverty was increasing. "It exists and is still there. We began reducing it and I am pleased that the UN recognised that we are the country that is doing the most to fight against poverty."

 "Our target is that every child with at least one parent working should not be in poverty. That is our aim."

He said that every year the government is increasing pensions, as that this is an essential part of the fights against poverty.

He spoke about children and pensioners. The third sector is women, who live alone or are romol.  That is why free childcare

Regarding the government's report on the NAO recommendations, he said that in the past the NAO would issue the report which would then be left on a shelf. This government, he said, launched a procedure through the Principal Permanent secretary by which, the report is read and responses are given explaining what the government agrees with and not, providing reasons.

Muscat said that on the 2017 report, the NAO issued 192 recommendations, 90% of which the government agreed with. 78% of these were already implemented, he said.

He said that there were some interpretations which the government did not agree with but said that such dialogue is important for transparency.

On investment in the health sector, Muscat said that impeccable work is being undertaken, and said that the projects in this sector will change the face of the sector and advance it forward.

On the Commissioner for Standards report regarding MP wages and jobs, he said that the government is examining it. He said that there are certain conclusions which the government cannot ignore and must examine as well as see the counter arguments.

The Commissioner recently said that the practice of employing backbenchers in the public sector is fundamentally wrong and could possibly create unnecessary jobs or fill genuine vacancies with people who are not best suited for that particular job.

Muscat said that Commissioner Hyzler is speaking about backbenchers from both sides that have a post with government or entities.

He said that the government needs to take legal advice on the report and said that appointments of backbenchers began under Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who began appointing MPs as chairmen or Parliamentary assistants.

Muscat said that this is a holistic situation, and that the Commissioner proposes that this be solved along with an increase in MPs salaries, which is not something that can be taken lightly and is a delicate situation. He said it cannot happen behind peoples back, reminding people of the past government's €500 increase. He said that the government will later issue its position on the issue.


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