Ghana Airways (News Analysis)

Mon, 9 Sep 2002 Source: National Concord

MINISTER OF ROADS and Transport, Dr Richard Anane, finally found cause to brief the press, and indeed Ghanaians, on the affairs of the distressed national carrier, Ghana Airways last week.

This was after nearly 15 months of silence in face of widespread public concern, extensive media copy, employee apprehensions and agitations, boardroom turmoil and sundry activity.

At the end of the briefing, however, the mood among journalists was subdued. Perceptive media practitioners were left wondering what racket was unfolding. For one thing, the only clear object that the Minister decidedly tried to advance was to whitewash Nationwide Airline and dissuade the mounting media and public agitation for transparency and timeliness in addressing the plight of the national airline.

Those who have closely followed developments on Ghana Airways recall that certain defining events had occurred in the week preceding the Minister?s briefing. The Management Task Force that had kept the airline airborne for 15 months while the Ministry pondered its options was tossed aside by the Acting Chairman of the Board, Mr William Panford Bray, who proceeded to install himself Chief Executive.

In reaction, Ghana Airways Senior Staff Association and Workers Union jointly fired an official protest to the Minister deploring the development and the protracted neglect to get a major airline to partner and help rescue efforts at the airline. The protest letter also raised objections over the ?cloak and dagger? negotiations with Nationwide Airline.

Next, the Deputy Minister for Roads and Transport, Mr Agyeman Manu went on air Tuesday to attempt justification of the secretive handling of Ghana Airways affairs and fly a kite on the likely direction of government action. Finally, on Friday the Minister summoned the press to his briefing. In all these happenings, there was little attempt made to address pertinent and lingering puzzles in the Ghana Airways jigsaw for which journalists, and indeed the public had been left clueless.

For one thing, why was the Ministry so indifferent to events at Ghana Airways until June when Dr Douglas Boateng and Nationwide came into the picture? Why, for instance, did the Board Chairman, Sam Jonah resign in the manner he did? What compelling reason warranted the replacement of the MTF with Mr Bray at this late stage when the MTF had practically stabilized the operations of Ghana Airways except for the debt overhang?

Ordinarily, reporters expected Dr Anane to provide coherent and subsantial answers or at least put things in perspective. None of which happened.

In short order, Dr Anane started his briefing by verbally affirming government recognition of the Ghana Airways as the pride of the nation and ended it canvassing the achievements and website of Nationwide Airline. In between, he selectively dropped facts and half-truths all designed to justify the bid to subordinate the national airline to the upstart private South African airline. The Minister stated that ?whereas Nationwide Airlines is one of the prospective partners, Midland Air has NEVER put in an offer for consideration.? What he failed to tell Ghanaians was that whereas the Ministry sent a delegation to South Africa to meet with Nationwide, it made no such bid to any other prospect. Meanwhile, proposals from Triaton of Switzerland and T&E of Lebanon languished on his desk for over three months before Dr Douglas Boateng came up with the Nationwide name.

While discounting the proposals from some of the offerors because ?they were special purpose vehicles (SPVs) and management consultancies,? the Minister also failed to mention that the unfolding arrangement with Nationwide Airline was also an SPV.

Dr Anane also omitted to mention that the previous Ghana Airways management under E. Quartey Jr. briefly flirted with Nationwide before settling for a codesharing deal with South African Airlines.

The Minister also said the national airline with its ?negative image and indebtedness? could not be placed on the stock exchange and with her countless creditors, ?a divestiture could not be achieved without impinging negatively on their sensibilities? He failed to note that the MTF was able to hold off these same creditors for 15 months, and could have won extended grace periods in negotiations if only government could back their efforts.

Most shocking, however, was Dr Anane?s declaration that ?it is most unrealistic to expect prospective partners to pay off our indebtedness ? it will be near puerile to expect it to happen in the corporate world?. This statement reflected the tragedy of mindset that attends the handling of Ghana Airways affairs at Ministerial level and posed the biggest obstacle to getting real value for what still stands as a national asset.

From the financial projections, the unique difference in the Triaton offer, for example, was the plan to dedicate 20 percent of gross income of joint venture operations to repayment of Ghana Airways debts. This, taken as a form of royalty, was a creative way of tackling the ?debt baggage? that was crippling the airline while forging ahead.. How could this be a puerile idea and an unreasonable expectation in the corporate world?

The Minister failed to note that Ghana Airways was seeking partners to open a new era and engineer positive change at the national carrier. As it were, the remarkable sacrifices and achievements of the workers and MTF over to keep the airline airborne if face of daunting odds were utterly irrelevant. The Minister, in effect, had no faith in the ability of the airline and Ghanaians to fashion a worthy future for the airline. How sad!

Ironically, Dr Anane then outlined a vision to create a sub-regional hub to consumate the Gateway Initiative. Most likely it is a vision that the Minister expects to realise by creating a Ghana Nationwide Airline in which Ghana would hold minority shares while the nation is handed the liabilities of its abandoned carrier.

From every indication, the Minister and his advisers do not appreciate the true value of the goodwill that Ghana Airways ? with its route network and flight safety record ? commands. Again, when the Minister said the ?big and established? airlines failed to honour ?many other invitations?, he failed to acknowledge that in the current global business world in which emphasis was on good governance and transparent dealings, closet invitation were wont to be ignored.

Ultimately, everything points to a calculated resolve by the Minister and his ?friends in high places? to hand Africa?s Friendly Airline to Nationwide on a silver platter. The pity is unless and until a bold, meaningful and workable alternative emerges from patriotic Ghanaians, it is a done deal.

In the event the casualties would include the vast numbers of Ghana Airways workers at home and abroad, Ghanaian taxpayers, the many creditors, who may have to wait a while longer, and our collective psyche. Don?t ask which faces would wear the smiles; your guess may be as good as mine.

"SIL audience interested in having their views on issues published in a local newspaper can address it to the National Concord at natconcord@yahoo.com"

Source: National Concord