In a rather curious revelation, the Parlimentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises has learnt that the Minister of Transport and Communications (MTC), Tshenolo Mabeo undertook a trip to Brazil to identify possible aircraft suppliers alongside his permanent secretary Neil Fitt and an aircraft engineer Karabo Chibane from Air Botswana.
Appearing before committee members Samson Moyo Guma, Pius Mokgware and Phenyo Butale, acting general manager Agnes Khunwane told the committee that the Board and herself distanced themselves from the trip which also had representatives from stakeholders including the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) and Ayata, a consultancy working on the organisation’s turnaround strategy.
The committee expressed concern as to why only three companies would be listed as possible suppliers and as to why the minister would visit those alongside a consultant engaged by Air Botswana.
“We were told about the trip to visit three aeroplane suppliers in Brazil. The board chairman rejected the invitation to go, as we did not want our in-house process to be disturbed.
They then at the 11th hour requested to go with one of our engineers and we agreed,” she said. Khunwane said they would not even ask about the outcome of the trip even though they paid per diem for their employee as they were in the middle of a process. Mokgware said it would only be right to surcharge Khunwane for paying the per diem because the trip for which Chibane was given money for was not official Air Botswana business.
Khunwane said they did not see the value of the minister’s trip as they were on track with their process.
She said the board expressed displeasure at the move and told the minister that they want to be allowed to work with minimal interference. She said the minister overlooked Air Botswana for four months after he dissolved the board from November 2015 until February 2016. The committee members expressed concern at this saying as per the Act it should never happen that the organisation runs without a board.
The committee members raised concern that the minister travelled with a consultant who is expected to make the final
Khunwane said the initial consultancy had proposed they buy seven new aircraft and that it would cost P2.3 billion. She said because they had engaged the consultants, the minister’s trip made no sense to them.
She had told the committee that they had spent P10 million on ICF Management Consultants working on a five-year strategy, which shortly after Tebogo Masire was appointed, a further P1.8 million was spent for validation of the strategy, as it was a year behind schedule.
“The initial plan was to decide on networking of routes and buying of a fleet based on that. With revalidation, the board that came in February called for a broader scope starting from a business plan before making recommendations on networking and fleeting,” she said.
Khunwane also indicated that Air Botswana made a net loss of P90 million from P165 million in 2015, whereas in 2014 the airline lost P100 million. Khunwane attributed the losses to high costs of maintenance of its old fleet of aircraft of which all the jets have been sold. Other challenges she said were human resource deficiency and IT challenges.
This also led to another shocking revelation that the airline has leased an aircraft for P3 million monthly since February 2015 when they sold the jets. Chairperson of the committee slammed the move, stating that it could be cheaper if they sought a loan to buy an aircraft rather than take up an option they know they are not making any profits from.
Khunwane conceded that the staff morale was very low. She said that was expected as some employees put in their all, but get frustrated because the airline is not profitable. Butale had mentioned that he had received the concerns by some airline employees on the same.