News | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Gonzi spent tax on ‘deceitful’ promise to bus owners – PL

Labour yesterday accused Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi of using “hard-earned taxpayers’ funds to buy back his deceitful pre-election promises to bus owners”, in a reaction to the €55 million pay-off for bus licences.
Replying to questions by MaltaToday, a spokesperson for Labour leader Joseph Muscat said a letter sent out by Gonzi to bus owners and drivers before the 2008 general elections promised “in no uncertain terms” that their business and jobs would be secure for a minimum of 10 years.
“They were promised that it was only at the end of the ten-year period, and in case the agreement was not renewed, that there would be compensation discussions,” the spokesperson said. “Lawrence Gonzi tore up the deal a few weeks after the 2008 elections.”
Muscat said that Gonzi has now bought back his electoral pledge with “hard-earned taxpayers’ money that could have been used much more productively to help hardworking families and businesses”.
Muscat also accused the PM of taking “the bus people’s jobs away when it is clear that these people would have preferred keeping their business and jobs, rather than being given compensation.”
He added that Labour would not promise anything unsustainable, “let alone shift the burden of electoral sprees on taxpayers, who are yet again to foot the bill for the PN’s greed for power.”
Meanwhile, agreeing in principle was Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) director Joe Farrugia, who stressed it was “inevitable” that some form of compensation had to be offered. But he added it was difficult to answer on whether or not the €55 million was an appropriate sum to be paid out at these times of economic crisis. “The figure could be regarded as exorbitant at face value.”
GRTU director Vince Farrugia hailed government’s acceptance of the principle of compensation when taking over an enterprise, but warned that with this precedent, GRTU will now expect compensation for Gozo bus operators and other sectors “such as the gas distributors” in the same way.
While questioning the timing of such a high pay-out given the economic climate, Farrugia added it was “strange that government found an additional €3 million overnight to top up his offer to the bus drivers.”
Former Air Malta Chairman and economist Lawrence Zammit was asked to react on the pay-out – when compared to Air Malta’s estimated to €31 million loss – but he said he “absolutely refuses” to comment on the matter.
Former transport minister Jesmond Mugliett said that the compensation for bus operators was discussed before the last legislature, when he was responsible for the sector. “I was given the green light by the finance ministry so that funds could be reserved to address the compensation, but by the time we went for elections, all had been stalled and then talks continued when I was no longer minister.”
He said he “never believed that government could come up with such a sum” but that operators had to be given some form of compensation and assurance for their jobs.


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