Thursday, April 9, 2020

Privatising Air Botswana for Improved Service Delivery

Dear Editor,
In your (Sunday Standard) commentary of June 10, 2007, you make a number of negative insinuations regarding the proposed privatisation of Air Botswana. In the editorial, the newspaper argues that, amongst others, the airline’s privatisation will negatively impact on the local tourism industry, defeat Government’s broad economic strategy and allow the South African Government to sabotage Botswana’s tourism potential.

The paper correctly raises the issue of how Botswana’s tourism industry can be helped by a growing airline industry. Unfortunately, the editorial is littered with misrepresentations and misunderstandings.

┬áFirst of all, the ongoing negotiations between Airlink and Government are exploring a joint venture model. Under this proposal, a completely new national carrier would be created through a partnership between Airlink and the Botswana Government in which Government would retain a majority interest. In addition, the arrangement envisages the removal of the current Air Botswana monopoly. All routes would be open to competition subject to regulatory controls. Competition would be expected to have a moderating influence on fare levels, and lead to expansion of the route network. Such a structure, if approved, would ensure that Botswana’s tourism and wider commercial interests are protected and, in fact, enhanced. Indeed, Botswana-based private carriers have already expressed interest in introducing new services to link up key tourism destinations.

Your newspaper also makes alarmist suggestions about possible sabotage by foreign interests. In reality, the potential for South African sabotage is a mirage. Private carriers are commercial operations that seek to increase market size and profits by serving the needs of their customers. Their interest lies in expanding the route network, the frequency of flights, and the convenience of services, in order to attract more passengers. We can, therefore, expect a “win-win” situation, whereby Government wants the tourism sector to prosper on a sustainable basis, and the joint venture wants to expand and improve the services to and from Botswana’s tourism destinations. It should also not be forgotten that, even as a monopoly operator, Air Botswana has been unable to adequately serve Botswana’s tourism destinations. Private sector tourism industry representatives have been making this point repeatedly in various fora up and down the country.

Given that Air Botswana is not being sold, the accusation that it would “go for a song” does not hold water.

The public has been assured that the transaction has been undertaken in a transparent manner pursuant to the requirements of the Privatisation Policy and the laws of Botswana as well as under the oversight of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board.

The proposed joint venture would, in fact, relieve the Botswana Government ÔÇô and, therefore, the taxpayer ÔÇô of the heavy burden of having to replace Air Botswana’s ageing aircraft fleet. Such investments would cost many hundreds of millions of Pula.

The future of Botswana’s tourism does indeed depend on it becoming an attractive destination, well served by the airline industry. By using the experience and investment of private airline operators that want to see their industry enjoy a profitable expansion ÔÇô with new aircraft, new routes, better reliability and more passenger capacity ÔÇô all Batswana will benefit. As past experience clearly indicates, if we rely on Air Botswana, tourism may not realise its potential and Botswana will lose the opportunity to have tourism as an engine of growth.

 G. N. Thipe
Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Works and Transport