Muscat insists government will retain majority shareholding in Air Malta

Joseph Muscat insists Vienna Airport not looking to sell its shares in MIA, says judiciary selection system will only give way to a more transparent one. 

Air Malta needs to search for a strategic partner, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat admitted.

“In this day and age, there are three airline model types,” Muscat said on Reporter. “There are low-cost airlines, Gulf carrier-types subsidised heavily by governments, and legacy airlines that fly long distances. Air Malta follows neither of these three models.”

He insisted that the government should remain a major shareholder of Air Malta as it did with Enemalta after selling 33% of the company’s shares to Shanghai Electric Power.

“Air Malta is crucial for Malta’s connectivity and tourism, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t have strategic partners,” Muscat said.

He denied that any concrete decision has been made over the national airline’s future, following reports that talks are underway with Turkish Airlines over a strategic partnership with Air Malta.

“We’re currently assessing our options and looking at all those three airline models,” Muscat said.

Describing Air Malta’s situation as a “catch-22”, he said that Malta has already committed itself to restructuring the airline as a condition imposed by the European Commission following their approval of €130 million in state aid in 2012.

“The decision to replace Air Malta’s on-board hot meals with bread-rolls was heavily criticised,” Muscat said. “However, the previous administration wasn’t even capable of taking a decision as simple as that, let alone on harder decisions.”

Vienna Airport ‘not interested’ in selling MIA shares

Muscat revealed that Vienna International Airport, a principal shareholder of the Malta International Airport, is not interested in selling their shares in the Maltese airport.

“The MIA is a publicly-listed company, and I don’t want my words to influence the stock exchanges,” Muscat said. “According to the contract, Vienna Airport’s shares are locked at MIA until 2017, after which they can decide to sell them. However, they have informed me in writing that they are not interested in selling.”

Vienna Airport directly owns 10.1% of MIA’s shares, as well as 53.24% of the shares in the Malta Mediterranean Link Consortium, which in turn owns 40% of MIA.

In 2013, reports that Vienna Airport and fellow majority shareholder SNC-Lavalin were planning to sell their shares in MIA surprised the market. 

‘Not prudent to consider Scerri Herrera as a judge until her case ends’

Muscat was quizzed as to whether Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera, sister of parliamentary secretary Jose Herrera, has a future as a judge.

“Scerri Herrera is an extremely efficient Magistrate, but she has an ongoing case in front of the Commission for the Administration of Justice,” Muscat said. “I don’t think it’s prudent to consider her as a judge until these procedures end.”

The case goes back to 2008 when Consuelo Herrera had insisted that the Lija local council authorises demolition works on a villa to give way for an apartment block, one of which belongs to her husband.

The commission for the holistic reform of the justice system, headed by former European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello, had disagreed with the way judges are appointed in Malta, lamenting the lack of transparency in the selection process and having no fixed criteria of determining who is the person most fit for the post.

The Commission had called for nominiations to be made by an autonomous board, with the government maintaining the final word.

However, Muscat sounded a word of warning over potential reforms in judicial nominations.

“We don’t want politicians to wipe their hands clean and leave their nominations up to other lobbies,” Muscat said. “If we do go for a reform, it has to be for a more transparent one. The Bonello Commission’s recommendations are slowly being implemented, and the judicial system is becoming faster and more efficient.”

However, he insisted that people with a political history shouldn’t be automatically disqualified from judicial posts.

“I follow the advice of Justice Minister Owen Bonnici who doesn’t look at people’s political colours,” Muscat said. “Many of the judges appointed by this government are proving themselves.”

Muscat on Cyrus Engerer: ‘I don’t discard people’

Muscat defended his controversial decision to appoint Cyrus Engerer as Malta’s special envoy to the EU, despite the former Labour candidate having been criminally convicted for harassing his ex-boyfriend.

“I don’t discard people, that’s an essential part of my character,” Muscat said. “Didn’t Engerer already pay for his mistakes by withdrawing his MEP candidature? If he hadn’t been convicted, then he’d have won the fourth seat in the European Parliament and in all likelihood Simon Busuttil would no longer be around.

“People enjoy cannibalizing people, but I don’t think it’s on. I understand that some people are angered at the decision, but people shouldn’t be disqualified from positions because of their political background. With that argument, PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami should be disqualified from his role because his father was Prime Minister. The next presidential contest in the United States is likely to be between the wife of a former president in Hillary Clinton and the brother of a former president in Jeb Bush.”

‘Giovanna Debono’s situation has changed the game for politicians' 

Responding to allegations that public works were carried out on private properties in Gozo under incumbent minister Anton Refalo, Muscat said that Refalo has provided answers for all allegations so far.  

He insisted that thecrecent arraignment of the husband of former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono over the misappropriation of public funds has changed the game for politicians.

“No politician can even think about doing these things again,” Muscat said.

When asked to comment on the perceived culture of absenteeism in Gozo, Muscat said that he was advised not to interfere in such affairs for risk of losing votes.

“I decided to press ahead and won Gozitan votes instead, because the vast majority of Gozitans are decent people,” Muscat said. “The idea that Gozitans just want to stay at home doing nothing is probably due to the previous culture of clientelism. We want that attitude to change, and thousands of Gozitans want it to change too.” 

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