FRANCISTOWN: Air Botswana's perennially inefficient and inconsistent service came under harsh and severe criticism here during the opening session of BOCCIM's National Business Conference (NBC) with captains of industry challenging the government to promptly restore order at the national carrier.
Air Botswana's service failings have also reignited debate on the liberalisation of the aviation industry, a move that government committed to but is yet to facilitate. Most speakers expressed frustration after more than 100 delegates heading for the conference were stranded at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport for over five hours on Sunday after a scheduled flight and a chartered service were both delayed.
The charter service was booked by BOCCIM. Said Executive Director, Maria Machailo-Ellis, at the start of the conference that began on Monday and ends today: "We had quite a scene at the airport yesterday. We are not taking this kind of service by Air Botswana lightly. As BOCCIM, we will definitely be seeking recourse from the authorities."
On top of several speakers calling on the government to promptly privatise the airline, Group Executive Director of Cash Bazzars, Odirele Merafhe, was more blunt, saying he was puzzled why the government was hanging on to a non-performing asset at the expense of the taxpayer. "Government must just offload Air Botswana and move fast in liberalising the air transport industry," Merafhe said. Flight delays and cancellations at Air Botswana happen often because the airline has only two old planes that are constantly in the maintenance hangar, leaving the airline with no option but to charter expensive planes from South Africa.
Government has attempted to privatise Air Botswana three times in the past seven years without success. The attempts began with the Comair bid in 2003, then the Airlink attempt in 2006, and the failed bid to engage a management company two years ago.
In an interview with Mmegi early
The year's conference is aiming at finding ways of how the government can reduce its role in the economy and make way for the private sector in the process of economic diversification. Delivering the keynote speech, South African businessman and chairperson of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), Bobby Godsell, said the government has to create an enabling environment for the private sector to take a leading role in the economic diversification. Godsell, who is also the former chairperson of Eskom, said apart from creating a conducive environment by means of proper institutions and regulations, the government must play a facilitative role in nurturing and promoting national champions from an existing economic base such as mining or agriculture into becoming global competitors in a much wider range of markets. Although not much success has been registered on the ground, Botswana first began its diversification attempts more than 20 years ago.