Ruining Air Malta to win elections

Air Malta was brought to its knees by a history of corrupt political system of favours-for-votes and rampant clientelism

The Alitalia/Etihad takeover of the management and 49% of the shares of Air Malta may indeed be the only way to turnaround the national airline. It’s a pity that the sheer irresponsibility of one administration after another has led to what looks like the inevitable, whether anyone agrees or not. When someone is lined up in front of a firing squad there aren’t much choices to make – the Etihad/Alitalia deal may indeed be the King’s stay of execution.

In 2011, a former Air Malta director, Michael Mallia, gave a brief history of how Air Malta was used and abused by Labour and Nationalist governments. As with many state owned companies Air Malta was used as a vote buying machine, through jobs for the blue-eyed boys and girls.

According to Mallia in the run-up to the 1987 election Labour ministers stuffed in an additional 250 ‘totally unrequired’ employees. A small airline ending up with 1,420 employees. Mallia said that 700 employees would have been enough. If he is right, it just goes to show the disgusting level of the jobs-for-votes racket.

Some may think that the story stopped there. Wrong. In 1992 it was time to dispense favours again it seems – the Nationalists keeping up with... no, not the neighbours, but with Labour! Another 300 jobs were given as presents. During Minister Josef Bonnici’s term, during which Louis Grech was chairman (today deputy prime minister) the Air Malta workforce rose to over 2,000 employees, more than double the amount of employees an airline with tens of aircraft needed.

In 2011, 500 employees took early retirement or left voluntarily. It seems that it was all too little too late. The airline continued struggling, and shed more employees, with today’s being around 1,000.

What will Etihad’s Alitalia want from its investment? What is sure is that a shareholder with such a big stake in the company will want a decent return on investment, and quickly. Probably Government will have to accept a downsizing exercise. Alitalia had to cut 2,200 jobs from its 14,000 workforce to entice Etihad to buy 49% of the airline’s shares.

The hardworking employees who find themselves pushed out know who they have to thank: those of their colleagues, who because of their connections and because of the electoral district they happened to live in, sold their vote. But above all they should realise that Air Malta has been brought to its knees by a corrupt political system of favours-for-votes and rampant clientelism.

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