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.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.