18 January 2006

The Web
Business Today

Frank Prime Minister speaks his mind

James Debono

A frank Prime Minister expressed his views on the economy, potential conflicts of interests and low cost airlines during last Monday’s edition of TV talk show Int X’Tahseb.
Speaking his mind on MaltaToday’s revelation that Labour Deputy leader Charles Mangion officiated the notarial deed for Pender Place, the sale he had criticised, Lawrence Gonzi absolved the MLP’s deputy leader from the charge of conflict of interest while questioning his political credibility.
“As a notary Charles Mangion has every right to exercise his profession. The problem in this case is that the MLP has claimed that the sale of Pender Place by public tender favoured a bazuzlu (someone in the government’s clique). As his notary Charles Mangion knows who this bazuzlu is, and he should now state the name of the person.”
Further pressed on whether politicians should declare their interest when speaking on matters, in which they have a stake, Gonzi insisted that MPs were already obliged to state their interest before voting on issues on which they had a stake.
Defending the political class, Gonzi pointed out that unlike MPs, journalists and magistrates did not have an obligation to state their interests.
Gonzi also claimed that by declaring their interests politicians could be subjected to unfair allegations.
“My own savings have decreased during the past years as I am helping my own children to build their future. This has exposed me to unfair comments.”

Economic recovery
On the economy the Prime Minister insisted that the reduction in the deficit is the main positive indicator. By reducing the deficit to acceptable figures, the government will be in a position to revise income tax bands “in order to incentivise investment and work.” The Prime Minister’s declaration could be an indication that a revision in income tax brackets could be the government’s winning card in the next election.
Saviour Balzan asked the Prime Minister whether the government had blown its trumpets too early when Austrian Company Gama had shown interest in employing 400 workers who had lost their jobs when Denim closed down. On that occasion the Ministry for Investments had issued a press release on the interest shown by Gama. Gonzi rebutted that the government through Malta Enterprise had done its best to help reach an agreement with Denim. He also said that till last Thursday he was informed that they were close to sealing the agreement. The deal floundered when Gama was unable to provide the necessary guarantees. Yet the government will not be making good for these guarantees.
“If the Austrians cannot provide the necessary guarantees required by the bank, the government cannot make good for them. Investment in Malta should be one based on solid foundations.”
As regards pension reform, the Prime Minister committed himself to present new pension laws by next June.

Low cost airlines
The Prime Minister was adamant that the government will not be subject to the conditions of low cost airlines. “Nobody will treat me as if I am a rag,” a belligerent Prime Minister said. Asked whether the government’s caution on this sector was motivated by its desire to protect Air Malta, the Prime Minister insisted that his main concern was to avoid dependency on low cost airlines. He warned that Malta risks losing established airlines like Alitalia and British Airways if it offered special conditions to low cost airlines.
He insisted that Malta unlike most European countries lacks a secondary airport, which can offer advantageous rates to these airlines without effecting airlines using the country’s main airport. He also said that an agreement with low cost airlines, which would safeguard the national interest, could be reached shortly but he also added that it takes two to tango. Gonzi also warned that any additional tourists brought over by low cost airlines must be over and above the number of tourists brought to Malta by other airlines. Asked whether Malta International Airport’s decision to raise landing charges in April will make Malta even less attractive for low cost airlines, Gonzi explained that the contract signed with the government enabled MIA to revise its tariffs according to inflation.

Int X’tahseb has a repeat on Saturday at 10.30pm on Smash TV

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