As we had done in the past, we thought it fit to renew the support for the initiative taken by Dr Simon Busuttil to address the airport departure tax again. Last August this was raised from Lm10 to Lm20 on all passengers leaving Malta by air.

It is applied to all flights commencing in Malta and therefore the tax is deliberately applied to Maltese citizens but not to tourists travelling to Malta who naturally start their flights somewhere else.

Dr Busuttil, championing the rights of common citizens, has tabled a series of written parliamentary questions seeking a number of clarifications from the European Commission. In these questions he underlined a number of important points on the tax.

Dr Busuttil has pointed out that the tax paid by passengers leaving Malta by air is higher than that paid by those leaving Malta by sea.

More pointedly, he observed that EU law on freedom of services confers rights both on the providers of services as well as on the recipients of such services who must be allowed the freedom to enjoy them.

This means that an EU citizen can travel to another member state to receive a service.

According to Dr Busuttil, the tax is not only discriminating against air travel in favour of maritime transport but is also making it more difficult for Maltese citizens to enjoy certain services and choose freely from a wider range of services available throughout the EU.

He again underlines the point that, since Malta is an island state, air travel is the only true means of transport available to Maltese citizens wishing to travel in the EU. Moreover, free movement of persons is a right that all EU citizens must enjoy as an inherent part of EU citizenship. You cannot call yourself an EU citizen if you are denied the right of free movement.

Dr Busuttil claims that for many Maltese families wishing to travel overseas, the taxes are prohibitive. The price of an air ticket often doubles after the departure tax - and other taxes and charges - are added to it.

We think it is time for the Maltese Government to take stock of the situation. Those who can afford to travel will probably not mind an extra Lm10 or two to their travel bill. But there are other people who have to travel for work and study purposes or privately for health reasons.

And then there are others who work very hard, pay a lot of taxes and want to get away from this overcrowded island, who do not wish to stay here for the weekend to listen to the silly diatribes of our politicians or watch the political slapstick that occurs on Sunday, our day of rest.

Families are being taxed hard by this imposition and this is a measure that hits harder families with children.

When Malta was negotiating EU membership, it made a lot of mileage about the fact that it is an overcrowded, isolated peripheral country for which reason it deserved special treatment.

We are aware that the Government is successfully dealing with the fiscal deficit and that it is embarking on a reform of the tax system. We look favourably on all these efforts. But the airport tax was a false step, which should have never been imposed - certainly not at its present level. Travel with the rest of the EU should be facilitated, not obstructed.

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