The continuation of negotiations between Airlink and Botswana's Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency quashes media reports from that country that the negotiations had been stopped by parliament.
It was alleged that Boswana's parliament had put the brakes on the negotiations after it emerged that the privatisation of Air Botswana could entail the winding up of the airline and the disposal of its assets.
Many parliamentarians and other nationalists were reportedly in favour of a foreign strategic partnership with Air Botswana and not a total takeover of the airline. They also preferred to see the colours of Botswana's flag on the airline.
Airlink CEO Roger Foster said the government of Botswana had said "it was business as usual" in terms of the partial sale of Air Botswana and that contractual documents were being prepared to formalise the deal.
Regarding concerns raised by some parliamentarians, Foster said the information at his disposal was that they wanted to repeal certain clauses of the privatisation legislation, but this would not affect the current negotiations on the privatisation of the airline.
The agency said in a statement that "negotiations to privatise Air Botswana operations are proceeding in good faith, and with the interests of the nation, its airline and its people, paramount".
The agency also dispelled rumours that Air Botswana was going to be liquidated. "It should be noted that none of the bidders, including Airlink, proposed an outright acquisition of shares in Air Botswana, or the outright acquisition of any material assets from Air Botswana, for a cash consideration. In other words, from the outset Airlink did not propose to buy Air Botswana."
Instead, Airlink proposed the operation of a new airline in a joint venture with the government and the restructuring of Air Botswana.
This would involve the disposal of some assets and liabilities of Air Botswana and staff rationalisation.
Other issues under discussion included the overall branding of the new airline and the livery (colours) that might be painted on its fleet.
Negotiations between the government and Airlink were expected to be concluded early next month.
The agency said the privatisation of Air Botswana was aimed at reducing the government's financial commitment and operational involvement in the company.
A privately operated airline could also help in the development of tourism in the southern African country.
Botswana's Trade and Industry Ministry said on its website that Air Botswana lost 18,8-million pula during the 2005-06 financial year, and a similar loss was expected for 2006-07.
The department said the airline was "inundated with problems, among them an ageing fleet, unreliable schedule, and the inability to retain or attract appropriately skilled and qualified pilots". (Business Day)