25 January 2006

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Business Today

Rent reform white paper presented to cabinet

James Debono

Minister Dolores Cristina, the subject of criticism from the Green Party for not yet publishing a white paper on rent reform, presented a draft paper to the cabinet on 16 January, a few days before the AD chairperson lambasted government for not abiding to its own timetable Business Today can reveal.
Even so, the white paper has not been made public and still awaits a social and economic impact assessment study.
In June last year Minister Cristina had promised that a white paper on this controversial issue would be published “early next year.”
In October she had promised that the white paper would see the light of day in January this year.
With January soon over, AD Chairperson Harry Vassallo last Saturday criticised government for not honouring its own commitment.
In comments to Business Today, Cristina insisted that she is sticking to her commitment.
The minister said that back in November 2004, she had presented a report based on a commission appointed by Alfred Sant in 1997.
Subsequently the Cabinet asked her to look into all the laws that needed to be changed and to initiate a social and economic impact assessment. On that occasion Cristina was asked to report back to cabinet by early summer 2005.
Dolores Cristina presented a memo to the cabinet containing proposals for rent reform in August.

Industry observers believe that the sale can rake in more than the Lm100 million often mentioned in government circles. They point out that Maltacom is a cash-rich company with a healthy balance sheet and is ideally placed to be a quadruple-play operator.
Privatisation discussions are expected to pass through a rough patch when government and the potential buyer discuss property-related issues. The biggest problem concerns the ducts through which Maltacom’s cables pass through. Even though the cable network is Maltacom’s property, the ducts on public land may not belong to the company.
Observers point out that this is a common problem in privatisation talks involving companies such as Maltacom and one possible way out would be for government to lease back the ducts to the company for a long period.
The only European company to submit a bid, Cable & Wireless (C&W), is the UK’s second largest telecoms company after British Telecom. It provides fixed, mobile voice, data, IP and broadband services and apart from the UK, it operates in the Caribbean, Panama, Macau and Monaco.
In October last year C&W sold its stake in Singapore’s MobileOne Ltd but at the same time acquired the UK’s number three fixed line operator, Energis.
In December C&W voluntarily de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange.
OgerTelecom is a branch of Saudi Oger Ltd, a major Saudi Arabian company headquartered in Riyadh belonging to the billionaire Rafic Hariri family. Rafic Hariri is the former Lebanese prime minister who was assassinated in February 2005 by a car bomb and whose murder is subject to a UN probe over alleged Syrian involvement.
OgerTelecom is run by Rafic Hariri’s son and operates telecommunication services in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Portugal, Romania, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
It is also active in broadcasting and cable television.
In November last year, OgerTelecom, as part of a joint venture with Telecom Italia, purchased 55 per cent of the shares of Turk Telecom from the Turkish government.
Telecom Italia already had a stake in the Turkish telecom company’s mobile phone subsidiary.
The involvement of Telecom Italia in the Turkish sale has led industry observers to speculate that the Italians may also be involved at a technical level in OgerTelecom’s bid for Maltacom.



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