Former Air Malta executive calls for transparency on airline salaries

In the past weeks, the government benches have had no qualms revealing the packages of former officers in agencies or corporations.

Air Malta's former Commercial Officer Philip Saunders
Air Malta's former Commercial Officer Philip Saunders

Former Air Malta Commercial Officer Philip Saunders has rubbished comments by Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis about consultants’ earnings at the airline.

This week Zammit Lewis said in answer to a parliamentary question that between 2008 and 2013, the payment to consultants amounted to €14.3 million or €2.8 million per year.  

Zammit Lewis claims that today the cost is €1 million in salaries for senior staff, with savings of €1.8 million.

Describing the minister’s comments as “rubbish”, Saunders said he was never employed as a consultant but was an employee and that he did not run away from Air Malta.

Saunders also called on the minister to reveal the pay packages and the selection process of the present management team.  

But yesterday Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis refused to divulge the salary packages of any of the present chief officers, including that of the Chief Financial Officer of Air Malta, citing commercial sensitivity.  

In the past weeks, the government benches have had no qualms revealing the packages of former officers in agencies or corporations.

Years back, Tonio Fenech, then minister responsible for Air Malta, was excoriated by the Labour opposition for seeking refuge behind commercial secrecy to not reveal the salaries of CEO Peter Davies and Chief Commercial Officer Philip Saunders.

Speaking from Kuwait to MaltaToday, Philip Saunders, who is employed with Kuwait Airways, took umbrage at Zammit Lewis’ comments: “As the government is so ‘candid’, it should indeed reveal the exact recruitment process employed in terms of the appointment of the current Deputy CCO, CCO, and CFO – and why not, of all senior management since their election – as well as full details of their remuneration packages and benefits.”

He insisted that Air Malta did not employ full-time consultants and the part-time consultants’ earnings only amounted to €100,000.

Saunders, who was on a package of €250,000 a year, told MaltaToday: “My remuneration was in line with market rates for the highly challenging and responsible position I held. This agreement was arrived at after a fair and reasonable negotiation and, as far as I am aware, was approved by the board. Again, is the Minister questioning the integrity of the previous board?”

Clearly irked by Zammit Lewis’s comments, Saunders said: “In previous comments, the minister has suggested (by association) that I ran away from Air Malta. This is rubbish.

“From early 2015, then Chairman Ray Fenech and CEO Louis Giordimaina frequently asked me to remain at KM after my contract ended and suggested that my terms would be acceptable, and this under the new Labour government.

“However, I never received a written proposal despite asking. I remained without a formal offer even on the day of my resignation – so how exactly did I run away?”

Saunders explained that in 2014 he had advised Louis Giordimaina, then CEO, on a recruitment process for senior management. He had recommended three internationally renowned recruitment agencies: Spencer Stuart, Zygos and Heidrick & Struggles. 

“It would be interesting to know whether any of these agencies was used in the minister’s much-vaunted selection process.”

Finally he said that he wished Air Malta every success under the leadership of Maria Micallef and Philip Micallef. And as a final remark he added: “I am pleased that the board is confident in meeting the requirements of the Restructuring Plan.” 

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