National Airline, Air Botswana is at a standstill, newly setup Arab based Airline, NESMA is recruiting all strategic personnel at Air Botswana. The move has put Air Botswana management and Board between a rock and a hard place, there are now fears that this could completely diminish the value of the organisation which is ear marked for privatisation, and worse, force the Civil Aviation Authority to ground its flights because of non-compliance due to lack of staff capacity.
Air Botswana General Manager, Agnes Khunwana is said to be shaken by the move by NESMA, the Arab based new Airliner which targeted Air Botswana staff because of their experience with ATRs, which are the most commonly used jets at the organisation; and their exposure to “African environment”.
Already NESMA has interviewed all 40 Air Botswana pilots – among them junior and senior. So far, this publication learns that close to half of the pilots have been given offers by NEMSA and they are leaving Air Botswana, a situation that makes it difficult for Air Botswana to operate smoothly, more are still on their way out. “We have realised that the situation is beyond the Air Botswana Board and its management, the issue is about money and they do not have the money to match the offers we are getting,” said one of the pilots who spoke on condition of anonymity.
NESMA has acquired 15 new ATRs and will need a minimum of four pilots for each jet. This is in consideration of the fact that pilots work according to shifts and they are given rest periods in between working days. Furthermore, pilots usually fly in pairs of two, therefore it is very likely that NESMA will soon come for the last batch of pilots remaining at Air Botswana, Weekend Post is informed.
The first person who was poached from Air Botswana was the Director of Flight Services, and was followed by pilots. Khunwana could find herself without a contingent of critical staff, a consequence of which could be the need to speed up the privatisation process and bring in owners who can bring in pilots and engineers. Under such circumstances, there is no guarantee that she will be retained at the helm of the sprouting entity.
AIR BOTSWANA CANNOT MATCH THE OFFER NESMA has offered Air Botswana pilots $10 000 which is an equivalent of about P170 000 a month as net salary. The pilots have also been promised free tickets to fly back home every three weeks. Some of the senior pilots will in fact earn a net of P200 000 because of the experience they have.
This publication has been informed that the Board of Air Botswana has made it clear that it is not in a position to match the NESMA offer. It is understood that the pilots had asked management to at least match the offer so that they stay with Air Botswana, but it is impossible because of the Airline’s market dynamics. Insiders point to the small Botswana market and the poor performance of Air Botswana financially as the reason why it is almost impossible to match the P170 000 net offer.
PRIVATISATION INTENT COULD BE DERAILED The latest development also weighs down on Government intention to privatise the loss making Air Botswana. While there are clear indications that government could offload the Airline soon, lack of capacity could put Air Botswana at the risk of being grounded hence affect its market value. Weekend Post learns that Comair is one of the companies interested in acquiring Air Botswana, and a former General Manager of Air Botswana, Sakhile Nyoni could be the leading candidate to come and steer it upwards under new owners.
Indications are that should the IATA learn about Air Botswana situation, in case it gets to unmanageable levels, those wishing to buy it could use its shortcomings to lower their bidding prices. In an Express of Interest (EOI) notice, the Ministry of Transport and Communications said it was inviting companies, consortiums or service providers capable of offering efficient air transport services to meet the needs of Botswana’s business and tourism sectors by operating Air Botswana.
“The Ministry is open to receiving proposals for privatisation forms including ownership, joint ventures, franchising, concessions, partnerships with commercial airline operators or potential investors, with management competency to run viable air transport service on the existing Air Botswana network as well as developing new routes,” reads the notice.
The EOI closed on February 28, 2017. The carrier operates a fleet of four turbo prop aircraft, three ATR-42-500s and one ATR72-500. Air Botswana has also wet leased a single Bombardier jet aircraft. The government aims offload financial commitments that come with owning the airline. However, it should be noted that previous attempts by Comair, and South Africa’s Airlink to buy Air Botswana were unsuccessful. Within Air Botswana there are dissenting voices that are against the privatisation of the Airline.
There have been intentions to procure new fleet for Air Botswana to resuscitate it, there were also attempts to transfer it to the Ministry of Tourism because over 70 percent of Air Botswana passengers are tourists. But all these plans have stalled and the Ministry of Transport and Communications is determined to sell the entity.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”