The Air Malta tragedy

In the case of Air Malta, amongst other things, the company was saddled with excess employees, thanks to political interference

Minister Clayton Bartolo’s speech in Parliament about Air Malta was incredibly pathetic and contrasted shraply with that delivered by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana.

What struck me in this Parliamentary debate is how everybody - including the Nationalist Party - has forgotten the spell that Konrad Mizzi had as Minister responsible for Air Malta when he declared that the airline’s woes were over and it had started to register profits. How come?

Clayton Bartolo preferred to recall some inane phrase that was used by a PN spokesman fifty years ago when Air Malta was set up, rather than telling the country what happened in Air Malta since Labour were returned to power in 2013 - fully ten years ago.

To be sure, political abuse in Air Malta was not limited to Labour Governments, although I think that Labour had the lion’s share of this negative influence. But irrespective of which party abused the most in dealing with Air Malta when in power, the truth is that rather than as a business concern, Air Malta was run under the heavy influence of poltical power continually ditching normal commercial constraints.

If one were to delve into the past - as Clayton Bartolo did - one can also remember when Air Malta was included in Mintoff’s list of socialist enterprises that were likened to milch cows, always ready to supply the country with money from their profits, to the extent that it would be able to decrease taxation in Malta, if not completely eliminate it.

This socialist dream never materialised because government owned commercial enterprises proved unable to be run on the lines of private enterprise, where profit is the main incentive. In government owned enterprises, political pressure and interference always came before profits. This is why these enterprises have all practically failed - even the ones that had promising possibilities, let alone those that were non-starters.

In the case of Air Malta, amongst other things, the company was saddled with excess employees, thanks to political interference.

Finance Minister, Clyde Caruana described the situation as one with politicians trying to use tomorrow’s profits, today! He reiterated that Air Malta had been ‘used and abused’ over the years by both Labour and Nationalist governments. He insisted that Air Malta was badly managed under both Labour and PN administrations and recalled that in his first meeting with the European Commission about Air Malta, he was told that over the years the Maltese side had promised to take action several times but eventually these promises were never delivered.

Minister Clyde Caruana’s speech was more important and made much more sense than that of Minister Clayton Bartolo, but ‘l-orizzont’ last Wednesday reported Minister Bartolo on its front page and relegated Minister Caruana’s speech to page 5!

At the end of the day, it is the taxpayer who has to make good for Air Malta’s debts which are over €350 million as well as for some €90 million in retirement schemes. This is how the ‘new’ Air Malta will be able to start afresh without any debts. This makes more sense than giving Air Malta a cash injection of some €290 million as had been proposed earlier - a way out that the European Commission did not accept. And rightly so, I would say.

The thorny issue of whether the new Air Malta will be run by the same people who are running the old Air Malta was raised by Mario de Marco. Frankly, I think he hit the nail on its head, because the answer to that question seems to be ‘yes’. There does not seem to be anyone new in the management of the new ‘Air Malta’.

How can an enterprise owned by the state be run on commercial lines? How can the new Air Malta avoid falling in the same pitfalls that entrapped the old Air Malta?

In other words, after Minister Caruana’s confession of Air Malta’s sins, how is he going to ensure that the new Air Malta will be ‘proofed’ from a repetition of these same old sins?

The church and gays

Pope Francis has suggested there could be ways to bless same-sex unions, when responding to five conservative cardinals who challenged him to affirm church teaching on homosexuality ahead of the Synod on Synodality that commenced last Wednesday.

More than 450 participants — mostly bishops, but for the first time this year, some women and lay people — will be gathering inside the Paul VI Hall in what is essentially a workshop to confer on the Catholic Church’s future. The extent to which the synod is an exercise in Catholic theology or an instrument for liberal reform is being hotly contested.

The Vatican on Monday published a letter Francis wrote to some cardinals on 11 July after receiving from them a day earlier a list of five questions, or ‘dubia’. In it, Francis suggested that blessings of gay couples could be allowed, if they did not confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.

The Vatican holds that marriage is an indissoluble union between man and woman. As a result, it has long opposed gay marriage. But Francis has voiced support for civil laws extending legal benefits to same-sex spouses, and Catholic priests in parts of Europe have been blessing same-sex unions without Vatican censure.

In Malta two priests - Mark Montebello and Colin Apap - were reported to have been censored for blessing gay unions.

Francis’ response to the cardinals, however, marks a reversal from the Vatican’s current official position. In an explanatory note in 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that the church could not bless gay unions because ‘God cannot bless sin’.

In his new letter, Francis reiterated that matrimony is a union between a man and a woman. But responding to the cardinals’ question about homosexual unions and blessings, the Pope insisted that ‘pastoral charity’ required patience and understanding, and priests could not become judges ‘who only deny, reject and exclude’.

Francis added that the issue should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, ‘because the life of the church runs on channels beyond norms’.

I do not think that this settles the issue permanently.

The Catholic Church’s position on people who are LGBTQ+ and on the issue of women priests will not be easily resolved.