22 June 2005

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Prime Minister had refused Marlene Mizzi’s resignation

James Debono

Former Sea Malta Chairman Marlene Mizzi revealed that Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had “absolutely refused” to accept her resignation when she met him on 8 June. Talking to The Malta Financial and Business Times she also voiced her disappointment at the Prime Minister’s innuendoes on “well briefed” opposition spokesmen.
Yesterday evening Minister Austin Gatt launched an unprecedented attack on Marlene Mizzi accusing her of colluding with the Opposition Leader in an “orchestrated campaign to harm the government.” He also attacked her record as Sea Malta chairman citing the losses incurred by the company during her years in office.
Yet just an hour before the press release was issued Minister Austin Gatt told The Malta Financial and Business Times that he had full confidence in Marlene Mizzi during her tenure as Sea Malta Chairman.
Asked for her reaction to the Prime Minister's declaration that the arguments raised in her letter of resignation have "been stated with uncanny similarity by well briefed opposition spokesmen," Marlene Mizzi expressed her disappointment that the Prime Minister had to taint his “courteous letter with uncalled for innuendoes.”
“My first reaction was that such comments were uncalled for. My second reaction was: well so what? The fact that such arguments were raised by the opposition did not make my arguments any less valid.”

Yesterday afternoon, just under an hour before issuing a vitriolic press release attacking Marlene Mizzi, The Malta Financial and Business Times caught up with Minister Austin Gatt as he was leaving the Hilton Hotel where he was addressing a conference on the Pharmaceutical Industry.
Asked whether he had full confidence in Marlene Mizzi during her tenure as Sea Malta Chairman, Minister Gatt briskly replied:
“Other wise I would have removed her.”
Asked whether he agreed with the Prime Minister that Mizzi’s comments were uncannily similar to those raised by the opposition Austin Gatt insisted that Marlene Mizzi’s words “were precisely the same as those expressed by the opposition.”
Pressed on whether government was insinuating that Marlene Mizzi was briefing the Malta Labour Party, Minister Austin Gatt told The Malta Financial and Business Times journalist to ask the question to the Prime Minister.
“The reply was written by the Prime Minister not by myself,” Gatt said.
Yet in a press release issued yesterday evening Minister Gatt went even further than the Prime Minister in alleging that Marlene Mizzi was the instigator of the MLP’s campaign.
“Alfred Sant has allowed himself to be used by Marlene Mizzi in her efforts to persuade the government to keep Sea Malta in public hands. When her efforts proved unsuccessful, he enlisted Mizzi in an orchestrated campaign aimed at harming the government.”
The same Minister Austin Gatt showed his Dr Jackal side by stating he had full confidence in Marlene Mizzi during her tenure in office, only to display his Mr Hyde side by attacking Mizzi’s record as Chairman a few minutes later.
In the press release issued yesterday evening Austin Gatt launched a scathing attack on Marlene Mizzi’s record citing losses of Lm3.6 million made by Sea Malta since she became Chairman.
“When she took over as chairman the assets of the company amounted to Lm2.59 million. Today these assets have not only vanished in to thin air but Sea Malta has Lm1.2 million more debts than assets.”

Mizzi’s meeting with the PM
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday, Mizzi said during the meeting she had with the Prime Minister earlier on this month Lawrence Gonzi did not hint at any collusion between Marlene Mizzi and the MLP.
“During a meeting I had with him on the 8 June 2005, where I went to personally give him my letter of resignation, he very kindly accorded me a full hour of his time. During this long meeting all, or most of, the reasons included in my letter of resignation were brought up. By that time the Opposition had already expressed their opinions on Sea Malta in various occasions, yet the PM did not even hint or comment to me that my arguments had any similarity -' ‘uncanny' or otherwise to the Opposition's stand.”
Marlene Mizzi also insisted that during the 8 June meeting Lawrence Gonzi “absolutely refused to accept” her resignation.
“I would imagine that if he really believed that the “well-briefed opposition spokesman” was getting his briefing from my office, he would have gladly accepted my resignation there and then! Furthermore, during my nine years of Chairmanship no one ever pointed a finger at me or at the Company for having used politics in any form or format.”

Mizzi’s Letter
In her letter of resignation Mizzi declared that she had remained in her post “in the hope of providing a counter-balance to the determination to dismantle our national shipping line”. She also insisted that Sea Malta is of “strategic importance to this Island State.”
On this point Marlene Mizzi’s position is not only “uncannily similar” to that of the opposition but also to the position expressed by the Federation of Industry.
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times two weeks ago, FOI Director General Wilfred Kenely said his organisation insisted the services offered to industry by Sea Malta were indispensable for Malta’s national economy and competitiveness.
“Sea Malta is the lifeline for Maltese industry, it provides Malta’s link to Europe and the rest of the world, so the service has to remain available as it is now,” Kenely said.
Kenely insisted that Sea Malta’s public service obligations should be honoured even if the company is privatised.
According to Mizzi, former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami and former Ministers John Dalli and Joseph Bonnici were supportive of the company and recognised the problems resulting from under-capitalisation.
But when Sea Malta fell into Minister Gatt’s portfolio, “it was immediately evident that Sea Malta had no future.”
According to Mizzi during a meeting held in May 2003 Minister Gatt informed the Sea Malta that the capital injection requested from Government was actually turned down ‘some four years ago’ and was never meant to be.
In her letter Mizzi insisted that the only time the shareholders funded Sea Malta was more than 30 years ago on its inception with a capital of Lm3.2 million, of which Lm2.6 million were paid back to its shareholders by way of dividends. During these years Sea Malta has invested more than Lm18 million, of its own funds in capital investments as well as investments in its human recourses.
In her letter Mizzi also defended her record as chairman of Sea Malta citing financial results showing profitable operations and reducing administration costs by 5-6% per annum, while retaining the lions’ share of the market – “in spite of the bleak prospects presented by passive, and at times hostile, shareholders.”
She also referred to a re-structuring report, forwarded to the Prime Minister in July 2004, which shows that, with the right measures, a turnaround of the company to a profitable situation could be achieved.
“Notwithstanding all this, I have had absolutely no feedback at all. Evidently this information was not considered relevant.”



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