Air Botswana not for sale

Staff Writer
FRANCISTOWN: After confirming South Africa's privately owned airline, Airlink as the preferred bidder for the acquisition of a 49 percent stake in Air Botswana, Cabinet has had a change of heart. Mmegi has been informed that negotiations between the Botswana government and Airlink ended this week Wednesday after a Cabinet vote which favoured the dumping of the deal as it was not deemed viable anymore.

Cabinet, sources say, concluded that the ailing Air Botswana (AB) should instead be revamped with public funds. There will be an option to look for a potential partner in the future.

Cabinet prefers a reputable foreign partner that will retain the national colours of blue, white and black.

As the Botswana government and Airlink could not agree on substantial issues, the proposed marriage between the two parties ended before it even started.

Quizzed about whether it was true that government changed its position over the Airlink deal, Minister of Works and Transport, Lesego Motsumi said yesterday: "I cannot confirm that. Not until we have formalised some details with those that matter. Then we can communicate these things to the media".

She added that the Airlink issue was still subject to discussion at Cabinet. "By the way, because Airlink was a preferred bidder, it does not follow that it will take over AB. We are still looking at other things and I can't really say when we will be done with them," she said.

The ministry has started addressing stakeholders on the cabinet decision. Air Botswana Human Resources Manager, Batlhatswi Tsayang confirmed yesterday that some senior officials from the Ministry of Works and Transport addressed the staff of AB yesterday on the latest developments "so that they don't pick these issues from the media".

He said the AB staff was briefed yesterday that the Botswana government and Airlink have ended their talks without an agreement.

"Since this was a decision taken on Wednesday, the ministry found it worthwhile to inform stakeholders on the latest developments," he said, indicating that they expected other details at a later stage.

He would not reveal how the government was going to assist to keep the national airline afloat since it is cash-strapped.

The loss-making AB has been dogged by problems of an ageing fleet, unreliable schedule and the inability to retain or attract appropriately skilled and qualified pilots.

The government decision was sweet music to employees of AB as their future has been in limbo because they might have lost their jobs if the Airlink deal was allowed to go through.

Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency (PEEPA) CEO, Joshua Galeforolwe said: "I have not yet physically received anything from

the parent Ministry of Works and Transport confirming the Cabinet's change of heart over the Airlink deal. However, I understand Cabinet made a decision on Wednesday turning against Airlink," said Galeforolwe.

Francistown South legislator, Khumongwana Maoto who attempted to stop the privatisation of AB through a parliamentary motion without success commented: "My reaction is literally that of a happy man. I am happy that our government t has a listening ear, and continues to listen as the public and parliament debate issues of national interest," declared Maoto.

He added that it was clear to him that government has changed its previous decision in order to respect the privatisation policy.

"To me, the Airlink deal was not well done as there are other reputable airlines that could partner with AB for efficient service. Imagine the head office of Airlink located in South Africa with the current AB offices reduced to a mere call center. That's too bad".

He was also worried about loss of Botswana jobs to South Africa. Gaborone Central MP, Dumelang Saleshando, said the Airlink deal should have not proceeded in the first place "because it was shrouded in secrecy with a lot of controversy around it".

"The credentials of Airlink are suspect and the long term viability of the relationship could not be guaranteed. Job losses in Botswana and creation of new jobs in South Africa reflect an imbalance that cannot be ignored," he pointed out. He stressed that the BCP believes that the Airlink issue does not conform to the Air Botswana Transition Act.

Botswana National Front (BNF) MP for Gaborone South, Akanyang Magama said he has always looked at the Airlink issue 'in the broader sense of privatisation'. BNF is opposed to privatisation of public enterprises.

"If government has stopped talks with Airlink but it is still looking for other partners, then there is nothing to celebrate about the decision at all. In my view, efficiency is an issue of management and it cannot necessarily be attained through privatisation of public enterprises," argued Magama.

He expressed his discomfort with privatisation saying that at its best it results in job losses and generally impoverishes the locals as services provided tend to be high and inaccessible.



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