29 June 2005

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Government will divest all shareholding in commercial entities, Gatt tells US audience

Kurt Sansone

The divestiture of Government shareholding in commercial enterprises is expected to be concluded by end 2006, Investments Minister Austin Gatt told an American television network.
Speaking to US Television, an independent TV production company producing country profile features for the New York based Fox 5, Austin Gatt said that by “the end of next year Government would have divested itself completely of any interest in any commercial enterprise.”
Gatt made particular reference to the divestiture of shares in Maltacom and Bank of Valletta, the two most lucrative companies to be privatised but went on to explain that once the whole privatisation programme was exhausted by end 2006, Malta’s would “probably be the first Government within the whole European Union not to hold an interest in any commercial enterprise.”
It is unclear whether Gatt’s policy statement also refers to Government’s shareholding in Air Malta, Malta Drydocks and Gozo Channel, all commercial companies that have never been considered for privatisation.

Nowhere, in the budget speech for this year does the 2006 deadline for privatising State-owned commercial entities feature. And Air Malta, Gozo Channel and Malta Drydocks are not among the companies listed for privatisation.
Gatt’s unprecedented policy statement on privatisation, he is the minister responsible for the Privatisation Unit, is either a way of trying to impress American audiences or else truly signifies a change in policy direction from what was outlined in the budget by the Prime Minister.
Gatt’s comments, part of a wider feature on Malta, can be accessed on the internet at www.us-television.tv on the link ‘Upcoming programs’.
In the budget speech delivered last year Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had outlined Government’s privatisation programme explaining the various options available.
Gonzi had said that a strategic partner was the method sought for Government’s share divestiture in Maltacom and Bank of Valletta. The Prime Minister had also slated Sea Malta for complete privatisation and said that Government had to review its position in the Kordin Grain Terminal, Maltapost and the Libyan Arab Maltese Holding Co. Ltd.
The budget also listed Interprint - which in the meantime has closed down - for complete sell out, the search for a strategic partner for Tug Malta, the divestiture of Government shareholding in Malta Dairy Products, divestiture of 20 per cent shareholding in Malta International Airport by initial public offering, the sale of Air Malta’s three hotels and the search for strategic partners for Sterling Services Ltd and Air Supplies Co. Ltd.


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