Mmegi Online :: Cabinet picks Wilderness for Air Botswana
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Last Updated
Friday 16 November 2018, 13:42 pm.
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Cabinet picks Wilderness for Air Botswana

Tourism concern, Wilderness Safaris has emerged as the preferred bidder for the privatisation of Air Botswana, the Public Accounts Committee was told yesterday.
By Brian Benza Mbongeni Mguni Thu 08 Jun 2017, 18:00 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Cabinet picks Wilderness for Air Botswana








Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Kabelo Ebineng told the committee that from the 17 companies that responded to the Expression of Interest (EOI), the shortlist has been reduced to two,  but Wilderness was considered as the preferred bidder.

 Asked by Member of Parliament for Selebi-Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse to confirm reports that government and Cabinet have considered Wilderness as the preferred bidder from the two shortlisted firms, a hesitant Ebineng confirmed in the affirmative. “Yes, I can confirm,” he said.

According to Ebineng, South Africa’s ComAir was the other of the last two companies on the shortlist, but did not reveal the models of privatisation proposed by the two companies. In the EOI flighted in February, the government said it was open to proposals on various forms of privatisation of the national airline including joint ventures, ownership, franchising and concessions.

“We have started evaluations of Air Botswana and from there, we hope to start negotiations with the preferred bidder and given that Air Botswana is a loss making entity we expect the talks to last up to 12 months. Everything will be done in accordance with the privatisation policy guidelines from PEEPA,” he said.  

The model of privatisation and the price for the  shareholding in Air Botswana are some of the aspects expected to be negotiated in the coming months before a deal is agreed. Wilderness chief executive officer, Keith Vincent told Mmegi Business the move for Air Botswana was part of a strategy to increase safe, cheap and reliable access to the country’s tourism heartland. He said quality access was critically vital to Wilderness’ survival as an entity, which also applied to other businesses and the broader economy.  “It’s in our strategic interest to have a seat at the table to ensure that there’s easy, cheap and safe access into the country,” he said.

“This is also not just about the tourism sector.  It’s

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a general business problem. “We should be boxing everyday for better and cheaper access.  If we don’t, our whole business is at risk. If government announces Air Botswana is closing, what do we do the following morning?

“Our interest is making sure that we have a constant flow of easy access and if Wilderness is part of that solution, then great.” He said Wilderness’ interest in Air Botswana would only be acted on if it made ‘financial sense’ to directors.

“Essentially, the country has two choices: close Air Botswana and open the skies or get someone decent to run it for you. Whether that’s us or someone else is irrelevant.” Through its partner, Wilderness Air, the tourism company operates 45 small aircraft transporting tourists between camps in their southern Africa operations.

Last year in Botswana alone, Vincent said 45,000 passengers were transported on the flights. Wilderness Air reportedly moves 350 passengers per day across its various camps.

The bulk of Wilderness aircraft are Cessna and Airvan models, which have a capacity of five to 12 passengers.  The confirmation that Wilderness will win the bid comes in the midst of perceived influence peddling by political authorities to award the tender to the tourism company as it is said to be linked to President Ian Khama.

Khama has publicly denied holding any shares in Wilderness Safaris, but has previously confirmed to Reuters that he holds shareholding in a concession that is leased to the tourism company. Rebuffing conflict of interest suggestions, Khama is reported to have said he held the shares in the concession long before his brother, Tshekedi became the minister of tourism.

“I’m not a shareholder in Wilderness Safaris. I have shares in a concession – just a concession – which is held by Wilderness Safaris, and I had them before he (Tshekedi) was the tourism minister,” read a transcript of Khama’s September 2016 interview with Reuters.

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