Sunday, December 5, 2021

The cat is out …Wilderness has interest in Air Botswana

After seven months of denying that a company with links to President Ian Khama, Wilderness Holdings Limited, has intention of making a bid for the privatisation of Air Botswana, the entity this week confirmed that it had made an expression of interest in response to a public invitation by government.

Wilderness Holdings, which owns Wilderness Safaris has interests in the wildlife rich Okavango Delta and Chobe Districts. Khama has beneficial interests in Linyanti Investment, a subsidiary of Wilderness Safaris.

Responding to Sunday Standard queries in October last year, Wilderness Safaris Chief Executive Officer Keith Vincent said they “have no intention of making a bid”.

Vincent was also responding to claims that Wilderness Air (a subsidiary of Wilderness Holdings), formerly Sefofane Air had made an unsolicited bid for Air Botswana a few years ago.

“Thank you for your questions which you want to print a story on a Wilderness Air potential bid for Air Botswana. Firstly, we have never made a bid for Air Botswana, and have no intention of making a bid,” Vincent told Sunday Standard in October last year.

This week the company confirmed in its latest financial results (ended February 28, 2017) that: “The Group has submitted an Expression of Interest in the privatisation of Air Botswana in response to a public invitation from government in February but there has been no further progress in the matter.”

The report added that: “Investors will be kept advised in the normal manner should there be any further concrete developments in this regard.”  

This is in stark contrast to what Vincent told Sunday Standard last year. He said they “have no intention of making a bid”.

Sunday Standard this week, through a questionnaire, sought to establish if Vincent still stood by his statement that they “have no intention of making a bid”.  Sunday Standard also sought to establish what could have necessitated Wilderness Safaris’ decision to climb down from its earlier position of “no intention of making a bid”.

Replying, Commercial Director and Chief Sustainability Officer at Wilderness Holdings Limited, Derek de la Harpe said: “The questions directed to Mr Vincent this afternoon refer.  Kindly refer to the announcement of the Group’s year end results published on the Botswana Stock Exchange’s website today in which is contained a clarification of this matter in regard to recent press reports.”

Last year, Vincent also rubbished claims that “there has been no interaction at any level between any of our Executive and any individual in Air Botswana and therefore any government individuals.”

Still last year, there were claims that the unsolicited bid was first handled by Minister of Transport and Communications Kitso Mokaila’s office while he was still Minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife (as it was then) and the Office of the President through the then Vice President Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe.

Contacted this week, Mokaila was non-committal and referred this publication to a press release that his Ministry issued recently “regarding Air Botswana”.

“That is the only story that is,” Mokaila said.

Sunday Standard sought to establish whether Mokaila was still involved in the negotiations; if not, at what stage did he cease being part of the negotiations.

This publication also wanted to find out when he passed the Ministry to Minister Tshekedi Khama, did he also inherit the case and as Minister of Transport Communications which is responsible for Air Botswana, has the Wilderness Air Botswana come back to his desk.

The release that Mokaila was making reference to, states that an Expression of Interest (EOI) was issued in February with a view to determining sustainable market driven and supported possibilities such as joint ventures.

The Ministry said it was looking for suitable entities, companies, consortiums, or service providers capable of offering efficient and reliable air services to the needs of Botswana’s business and tourism sectors through Air Botswana.

The EOI was also aimed at determining new equity partners, franchising, concession arrangements or any other arrangement that may be economically realisable.

The release said the EOI is one of the initial processes undertaken to inform the way forward and at this stage its results are under consideration.

The government said that as a shareholder it is in the process of determining what rehabilitative steps should be taken.

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