The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

When success means dismal failure

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 16 January 2022, 10:14 Last update: about 5 months ago

“This is another success story,” Konrad Mizzi boasted on 23 March 2019. Air Malta, he bragged, returned to profitability after two decades. Mizzi falsely claimed the company registered €1.2 million profit. Another miracle by the wonder kid Konrad Mizzi. His amazing ‘achievement’ was broadcast by many, not least his protege’ Karl Stagno Navarra.

Alas it was all a hoax. Air Malta owed Enemalta €15 million for fuel.  These were left unpaid to allow the company to claim a profit.  Two weeks later, as echoes of those lies still reverberated, Mizzi authorised payment of those €15 million.  What had been paraded as a whopping success and a healthy profit was actually a €13 million deficit. Mizzi managed to dupe the nation, again.

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That wasn’t his only trick. Mizzi also removed pilots’ salaries from Air Malta’s accounts and dumped them onto a government agency, Engineering Resources Ltd, erasing €6 million from Air Malta’s debits. That agency was headed by Konrad MIzzi’s father, Lawrence.

After MIzzi’s dishonest declaration, Air Malta never published its statements again.  Minister Clyde Caruana repeatedly refused to answer questions about Air Malta’s financial situation, claiming “commercial sensitivity” as a pretext for Air Malta’s failure to file statements with Malta Business Registry. The truth was he was concealing over €150 million in losses by the end of 2020. Wittingly or unwittingly he was complicit in perpetuating MIzzi’s fiction. He was protecting Mizzi from being exposed for the crook he really was.

Clyde Caruana has now been compelled to spill the beans. Air Malta’s workforce will be slashed by more than half.  420 employees will be shed.  To spare his party the wrath of the workers and their families, he’s had to promise they will be drafted onto government’s books.  That will save Air Malta €15 million, now borne by the taxpayer.

Caruana painted a dismal picture of the airline.  “Every time a plane flew to any destination, it resulted in a loss for the company,” he stated. Caruana commented “that decision makes no sense” about Konrad MIzzis ambitious plans to fly to Ghana, the United States and India. He declared the company is losing €170,000 every single day.

Caruana had to beg the European Commission to allow Malta to pump €290 million into Air Malta to bring it back from the precipice.  Commissioner Margrethe Vestager was not having any of it. Don’t be ridiculous, was her response - come up with a “more realistic figure”.

Caruana was forced to admit the European Commission “made it clear it did not trust government to implement reforms because past pledges were never adhered to”. The European Commission’s choice was to shut down Air Malta altogether. Caruana won some breathing space but the Commission was unwilling to decide on how much state aid it will allow Air Malta. Caruana was desperately dampening expectations - “not expecting ground breaking funds”.

Who could blame the European Commission for losing all trust in Labour’s government? In August 2019, Air Malta appointed Karl Stagno Navarra, Labour’s chief propagandist, as head of communications. It had been known since May 2019 that Konrad Mizzi would give him the job.  Stagno Navarra had invited Konrad MIzzi on his programme on 21 February 2017 and blatantly supported him in defending his Panama Rotorua Trust and Hearnville Inc. 

In May 2019, both Air Malta and Stagno Navarra denied he had been appointed, claiming the selection process was still ongoing. A requisite for that job was possession of a university degree.  Stagno Navarra did not possess a degree but that didn’t stop him getting the job in August. Air Malta claimed “Stagno Navarra was selected after a diligent selection process”.

Media reports revealed his pay package was worth €48,000 yearly, others €90,000. Exactly how much Stagno Navarra cost Air Malta we’ll never know. He staunchly refused to release his contract and Air Malta rejected FOI requests.

Stagno Navarra was also employed at Malta Enterprise and had consultancy posts at OPM and Transport Malta, besides running his daily programme Pjazza. He claimed he had resigned from Malta Enterprise and would relinquish consultancy roles with Transport Malta and OPM. Air Malta allowed him to continue to present Pjazza, despite the risks to the company from his abrasive and antagonistic approach towards many of Air Malta’s customers.

Stagno Navarra admitted it took 10 hours per day to prepare for the 1 hour programme.  Excluding a minimum six hour sleep, that didn’t leave enough hours in the day for his Air Malta’s full time job. The situation was so shameless that Clyde Caruana was compelled to issue a warning to Stagno Navarra.  He must report to work if he is to continue to be employed by Air Malta.

But the Head of Communications was nowhere to be seen when the grim news that Air Malta will shed half its workforce was announced. Isn’t the head of communications meant to communicate such information? Stagno Navarra was probably too busy preparing for Pjazza and pocketing the thousands he has siphoned off Air Malta since his outrageous appointment.

Stagno Navarra wasn’t the only one bleeding the company dry. Silvio Schembri appointed several of his friends to Air Malta’s Board of Directors despite their total lack of experience in running airlines. Schembri axed Joe Gasan but retained his uncle Charles Mangion.  He appointed his childhood friend Francois Piccione, who was also employed at Schembri’s ministry as his advisor. He appointed One journalist Mark Farrugia, Enemalta CEO Jason Vella, Konrad Mizzi’s associate James Camenzuli and Karmenu Vella’s collaborator Ernest Azzopardi on the board of directors. Is it any surprise the company is bankrupt?

Clyde Caruana’s hypocrisy knows no limits.  “The company must not be used by politicians,” he declared after the company was savagely abused beyond recognition by his colleagues.

From the fiction of MIzzi’s “success story”, Caruana was forced to admit the painful truth – Air Malta only has “a fighting chance to survive”.   Many more of Labour’s fake successes will soon be revealed for the mega frauds they really were.

 

 

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