HomeBussinessRevealed: Malta’s largest cab supplier’s murky accounts

Revealed: Malta’s largest cab supplier’s murky accounts

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WT Global has been dominating the cab and food delivery sectors. It’s been registering record profits and hiring whopping numbers of couriers and taxi drivers to keep operations running.

However, the financial accounts of the company paint a picture of a small empire built on the cheap labour of its workers, largely food delivery couriers and taxi drivers. MaltaToday takes a deep dive into the accounts of WT Global to understand how the company is doing so well, and where there might be cause for alarm.

WT Global: Impressive profits, but dismal wages

WT Global has seen impressive revenue levels over the years. Between 2019 and 2020, the company grew its revenue by a whopping 493.9%. More recently, between 2021 and 2022, the company’s turnover increased by 98%. According to the company’s financial report, its revenue comes from the provision of food delivery and taxi services, and the operation of a Floriana bar.

The company also enjoys an impressively low cost of sales. In 2022, it only registered cost of sales worth only €10,913, resulting in a gross margin of 99.8%. However, the bulk of the company’s operating expenses come from its administrative costs, which totalled to €4.4 million in 2022 and is largely attributed to labour costs and depreciation. The company’s balance sheet also appears healthy, with €7.5 million in total assets and almost €5 million in current liabilities. 

However, in 2022, WT Global spent €1.5 million on salaries and wages, excluding directors’ remuneration. Yet in the same year, the company employed 423 full-time workers on average. Despite impressive turnovers and a low cost of sales, the accounts suggest that the average wage in the company is a mere €3,600 a year. 

To understand further, MaltaToday obtained a payslip belonging to a cab driver employed with WT Global. Here, the driver appears to receive €6 an hour before tax, and between €100-€150 in additional food and mobile allowances for a two-week period. An additional reimbursement is handed out for fuel payments.

The payslip is issued by United Human Resources, an associate company of WT Global falling under the same parent company, owned by Libyan national Walid Ouhida. The financial accounts for this company also point to an average yearly salary of €4,390 for its workers.

Walid himself made hefty payments out of WT Global during the 2022 financial year. The director’s current account, which summarises transactions between the director and the company, shot up drastically from €196,788 in 2021 to €2.7 million in the following year. The current account is “unsecured, interest free and has no fixed repayment date”, indicating what is ultimately a very generous, interest-free loan to Walid.

This loan is separate to the dividend paid out to the immediate parent company, JWJ Investments, of which Walid is the sole shareholder. In 2022, WT Global issued a dividend of €600,000.

A life of luxury

Walid Ouhida, the director and owner of WT Global, is an enigma. The 41-year-old Libyan national has had a presence in Malta since at least 2016 but was granted asylum in Malta in 2020.

He’s had several business endeavours throughout the years but is now best known as the director of WT Global, which has been dominating the cab and food delivery sectors.

Walid resides in a St Paul’s Bay flat, but his social media shows a life of luxury. His Facebook posts show him to be a frequent traveller and a regular visitor to many luxurious hotels.

In one post from 2021, he is seen sporting Gucci shoes and Armani clothes at the Westin Dragonara Resort. In July 2022, he stayed at the Iniala Hotel’s presidential suite and the Intercontinental Hotel, before heading off to the Le Royal Hotel in Luxembourg a month later. He was also a guest in various luxurious hotel rooms in Zurich and Tunis.

Walid celebrated the new year with a limited-edition bottle of champagne, as well as a gold-covered steak from Caviar & Bull. Last August, he flaunted his new BMW M7, the number plate a nod to WT Global’s parent company, JWJ Investment Group.

Earlier this year, he was notified by the Malta Tax and Customs Administration to contact them immediately. This would typically be the case for persons from whom the tax administration requests documents for the carrying out of tax audits or to notify with a tax assessment. The notice was published in the Government Gazette on 13 February.

WT Global’s massive influence within the cab sector

WT Global is currently Malta’s strongest player in the ride-hailing industry when it comes to the size of its fleet. As of last November, the company owned 269 Y-plate vehicles, distancing itself from the second-largest fleet by 119 vehicles.

Information tabled in parliament last March shows that WT Global employs 62 drivers and has four garages, although the capacity of each garage is unknown.

MaltaToday has found several of the company’s vehicles parked illegally overnight in several locations, including St Paul’s Bay, Marsaskala and in supermarket parking facilities.

Last October, Transport Malta (TM) announced that fleet owners with more than five Y-plate vehicles require a commercial garage. Operators were given a 12-month window to abide by the regulations, with the window is set to expire in October. 

With only four garages and nearly 270 vehicles, WT Global applied to convert a Mosta carpenter workshop into a public service garage. 

The company, as do most fleet operators, offers its services to ride-hailing platforms, namely Bolt, eCabs, and Uber. A high-ranking industry source told MaltaToday that the size of WT Global’s fleet is large enough to influence the ride-hailing industry, and that it enjoys low commission rates and higher priority on certain platforms.

Cab industry questions success of ‘non-compliant operators’

WT Global’s aggressive expansion within the ride-hailing sector is not lost on other operators who question how the company registers such rapid growth year after year in an industry where operators are going out of business.

In an interview with this newspaper in September 2023, the Light Passenger Operators Association (LPOA) President, Aaron Gatt explained that operators were seeing their profit margins dive by as much as 45% from the previous year while working more hours.

WT Global’s gross margin remained very steady throughout the years, although its operating and profit-before-tax margins experienced a 27% dip year-on-year in 2022.

Last March, LPOA issued another statement on the significant challenges faced by law-abiding operators. Here, the lobby group stated that the “rapid growth of large operators raises questions about their compliance with transport regulations,” as it called on authorities to investigate non-compliant operators.

LPOA had asserted that the “unchecked expansion of non-compliant operators has led to oversupply in the market, harming law-abiding drivers and the industry. It’s imperative to hold accountable those responsible for flouting regulations and consequently, damaging the market dynamics.”

In 2022, the government sought to regulate platform work in general by forcing employers to provide workers with a contract of employment, a detailed payslip, statutory bonuses, and overtime rates paid by the hour. Platforms making use of recruitment agencies to secure a supply of workers must make sure that the agency provides all information necessary so that all salaries can be paid out accurately.

Questions unanswered

MaltaToday reached out to WT Global on Tuesday 9 April with a set of questions to understand the company’s financial accounts, particularly its large profits and low wage numbers. However, the company did not reply by the time of publication.

The questions sent to WT Global can be found below:

•     WT Global’s 2022 accounts show an exponential growth in revenue in just four years, all while keeping cost of sales incredibly low. Could you explain, within the parameters of commercial confidentiality, what has caused this impressive growth, and how the sales costs have remained so low?

•     According to the same financial accounts, WT Global pays an average wage of €3,681.95 per year. This number was calculated as the amount of salaries, wages and allowances divided by the average number of persons employed. Could you shed some light on how this is possible?

•     MaltaToday has seen a payslip belonging to one of the company’s employees. The employee makes almost minimum wage, but then earns almost double his/her fixed wage in non-taxable allowances. Could you explain this set-up?

•     The same payslip contains a hefty fuel reimbursement, between €700-800, for a two-week period. Is this amount of fuel reasonable for a cab driver?

•     On 13th February 2024 you were issued a notice by the Commissioner for Tax and Customs. Could you explain the nature of this notice?

•     How many cars and motorcycles does WT Global have in its fleet today?

WT Global sent in a reaction after the story was published. Read what WT Global had to say here.

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