4 SEPTEMBER 2002
The foreign touch
The appointment of a foreigner as chief executive officer of our national airline was so obviously going to create ripples that it is amazing how government was caught off its guard without a convincing explanation.
This is a country that has a love-hate relationship with everything that is foreign. We are a nation that prides itself on hospitality toward tourists that are the bread and butter of thousands of Maltese families. The general perception is that foreign products are of a higher quality than Maltese products. But when it comes to taking orders, we resent anything that has a foreign touch. There is a warped sense of pride.
And warped is not a word used by chance. Criticising the choice on the merits that it is scandalous to be paying such a large sum of money to a foreigner is tantamount to arguing that a Maltese national could have been paid a much less wage packet.
If Air Maltas highest post merits an exorbitant wage packet it should make no difference who occupies the post, whether the person is Maltese or foreigner. It is ridiculous to expect Maltese people to be paid at levels far below those paid to foreigners occupying similar posts.
Hopefully, the person was chosen on his merits even though the bankruptcy of Switzerlands national airline is not something to boast about. And the excuse that a foreigner at the top post would enable Air Malta to find a strategic partner is pathetic to say the least. The recent decision by Air Malta to lease its fleet from Airbus, a decision widely acclaimed as being financially sound, was taken by Maltese nationals and required no foreign intervention.
Air Malta has been and will always remain one of Maltas national identity icons. For that simple fact it is natural to question the choice of a foreigner to head the airline. The choice of a foreigner to head Malta International Airport might make sense given that government is not the sole shareholder in the company after the part-privatisation. But Air Malta is completely government owned. It was created by Maltese people, who diligently bred the airline into a modern respectable fleet. And until yesterday it was managed, run and headed by Maltese persons. There surely must have been someone, somewhere, in this island with the know-how and capability to take up the challenging job of CEO.
The reported wage packet is another bone of contention. Understandably the post of CEO carries a lot of responsibility. It requires somebody who can craft out a vision for the airline and transform it into an action programme that will eventually reap the desired results. Such a post inevitably carries a high wage packet. But if the quoted figures in excess of the Lm200,000 mark are correct it is obvious that eyebrows would be raised.
Air Malta has never taken any government subsidy, something, which the chairman is justifiably proud of. The company has repeatedly registered profits thus giving a positive contribution to the economy. But for the past year the company has been going through a bad patch, which was worsened by the tragic events of 11 September. It is till recovering.
In such a scenario it makes little economic sense for the airline to fork out a wage packet that is high flying by all means. For employees haggling with the management in a bid to improve their wages the CEOs wage packet sends the wrong vibes.
This very same CEO might justifiably refuse to give in to increased wage demands by the airlines employees but he would have little or no argument against wage increases.
All cards must be laid down on the table. After all Air Malta is a public company.