Parliament should step in and solve the Air Botswana Privatisation mess

18 Jun 2017

In April 2007, exactly ten years ago, our parliament, for once became useful. At the time, Members of Parliament debated and ultimately passed a motion brought in by former MP for Francistown South, Khumo Maoto, which called for the suspension of the privatisation of the national air line – Air Botswana. Through the motion, Maoto took parliament by hand to show how the transaction has, from beginning to the end, violated our privatisation policy that was passed some 17 years ago. 

Fast forward to June 2017, we find ourselves yet again in need of a Member of Parliament who will save the ailing Air Botswana from vultures. This is so because despite the Transport Minister, Kitso Mokaila’s denial, the process of selling Air Botswana is flawed. There is little mention of the Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency (PEEPA) – a body established solely for advising Government on privatization strategies as well as implementation of privatization, which includes commercialization, restructuring, outsourcing and divesture interventions for the effectiveness and efficiency of State owned Entities like Air Botswana. How then do we our people to fully trust this process when a body established by parliament to implement privatisation has the lowest voice in the whole process? 

Given the recent confusing statements issued by Transport Ministry PS – Kabelo Ebineng, we surely need the April 2007 Parliament which managed to simply join the dots, and a sinister outline emerged: An aide at the Office of the President, some politicians, some PEEPA officials and Air Botswana officials had conspired with SA Airlink to plunder and strip off Air Botswana. 

Fast forward to June 2017, had it not been the “premature reports” by the local media as described by Mokaila regarding the so called “preferred partner” the national airline was gone. 

The recent brouhaha surrounding the privatization of Air Botswana should not however come as a surprise to any of us. The situation now is almost the same as it was back in 2007. History is almost repeating itself given the allegations regarding the visible hand of the Office of the President that is seen in this latest attempt to sell this national asset. The key question that remains to be answered regarding this privatisation is why can’t the follow the “normal route” of privatising the national airline? At a time when the Government, in its Long Term Vision (Vision 2016) acknowledges that “there is a challenge to find concrete strategies to ensure citizen empowerment and to maximise the participation of citizen owned companies in the economy”, why does the same government find it very difficult to empower the locals when they dispose assets such as the national airline? 

We shall not forget that the Government of Botswana through the draft white paper approved the privatization policy in 1998. This was followed with adoption of the Privatization Policy in 2000 and establishment of Public Enterprise Evaluation and Privatization Agency (PEEPA) in 2001 with a mandate to oversee the whole privatization process. 

As far as we are concerned, by now, PEEPA has already examined the operations and activities of most State Owned Entities including AB, with the view of “enhancing private sector participation.” 

At the same time, the same PEEPA also developed a Privatization Master Plan (PMP) which details the suitability for privatization of all public enterprises under the criteria set in the PMP. 

This then brings back the question again of why the Transport Ministry, let alone cabinet is the one that “hand picks” potential partners to run Air Botswana? Is the cabinet in a way passing a motion of no confidence on PEEPA? 

To state the obvious, by its very nature, privatisation is a very sensitive business and such our people have every reason to be jittery when they suspect that their interests are not being sufficiently protected.
That is why the July 2017 Parliament should raise its voice and state for the record that it is not happy that the ongoing attempts by the executive seems not to take into consideration the spirit of citizen economic empowerment.

 The July 2017 Parliament should as matter of urgency halts any attempts to sell the national airline to a few privileged individuals which will result with no positive impact on lives of the rightful owners, most of whom are swimming in poverty pools. 

The July 2017 Parliament should as a matter of urgency tell the executive that the sale of Air Botswana need to be looked into in a broader perspective of what impact such a transaction would have on our people’s wishes to grow the tourism sector as the new biggest national revenue stream. 

With government in no mood to commit its money, it is not only necessary to privatize the airline now but also to ensure that the end result has a positive outcome for the people of this country including those stuck in the lower economic class. 

The #Bottomline is that as much as we support privatisation of this national asset, our loyalty and support to the process is conditional.  It has to be done fairly and honestly. More importantly, privatization, not just of Air Botswana but also of other state owned entities should be done in a way that enhances our country’s broad economic interests. This does not in any way entail handing over a public asset like AB to a few privileged individuals. If need be, we might as well as adopt the same model we used to hand over BTCL to Batswana to also sell Air Botswana to the most deserving owners.