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27.03.2009 Feature Article

President Mills Should Look Into GIA

Managing the airline business is tough and very complicated as a result it has become a highly unpredictable business globally. Throughout the world, all major airlines run into hurdles which compel home governments to chip in by doling out cash to rescue their operations during certain occasions. The powerful Swiss Air, once considered as one of the world's most efficient airlines went bankrupt in October 2001.

Currently, Alitalia is struggling so much so that even investors do not want to put their bet on Alitalia. That airline has become toxic and albatross on the neck of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi because of the pile of huge debts. Just after the September 11 debacle, all the airlines in the United States started struggling due to lack of business, which compelled the then Bush Administration to help the airlines by way of incentives and bailouts. It must be noted that even employees of the airlines especially the pilots signed new contracts by agreeing to pay cuts to help salvage the industry. Such is the nature of the airline industry.

One would wonder why the airlines face so many difficulties which prevent them from making profit or at least break even. The airline industry has two major peak seasons. The peak seasons are Christmas and Summer. That is why during these two peak seasons, the airfares hit the roof. Once Christmas is over the airfares drop until the beginning of June when the fares goes up till the end of August. As a result, airlines face many challenges during the lean seasons when most of them fly their aircrafts for long distances with little passengers on board. The increase in crude oil prices always have ripple effect on aviation fuel cost. Even the increase in labor and food cost also affect the industry.

Ghanaians would remember that just last year North American Airlines pulled out of Ghana when aviation fuel cost hit the roof. But I have to add that mismanagement has also led to major solvency problems for some airlines. Airline industry observers attributed the collapse of Swissair to the 'Hunter Strategy' whereby Swissair bought large chunk of shares in other struggling airlines like Poland LOT, Turkish Airlines and Tap Portugal during the 1990s.

With all these problems that I have outlined, it sounds to reason by saying that no airline industry can operate as efficiently as they would want and break even. The defunct Ghana Airways faced almost all of these problems that I have mentioned in this article. I was never happy when for instance I heard that past executives (Dating back from the 60s) of the Ghana Airways enjoyed free tickets when they travelled outside the country. And to me when something is broken, you need to fix it but not to dismantle it. But before you fix it is important you find the root cause and adopt measures to curtail the problems.

I was therefore gratified that when Kufour was sworn into office in 2000 he took issue with the perennial problem facing Ghana Airways and decided to fix it. Several ideas were floated but the immediate thing the Kufour government did was to appoint Sam Jonah to be the point man in helping to fix the problems at the struggling Ghana Airways. Of course Ghanaians have heard so much about Jonah being the 'golden boy' in the gold industry so many heaved a sign of big relief that he would bring his management mastery into play and help Ghana Airways. But it was a big shock when months after Jonah was made the board chair of the Ghana Ai rways he suddenly resigned without fanfare. That was when many Ghanaians felt something was really amiss at that organization.

Not long after the Kufour administration made moves to sell the industry since it owed millions of dollars. But when you have such a big national industry with so many assets scattered around many countries in Africa, Europe and America you need to make the wisest decision that would benefit Ghana the most. After all if you have a house or a car and you are selling it, you try to sell it to the highest bidder so that you can gain the most out it. But in Ghana when it comes to the sale of national assets, most of the time the shadows of those working behind the scenes sometimes make their personal interest much more paramount than that of the country.

The Kufour administration sold Ghana Airways to some shadowy investors who know nothing about the airline industry. We are reliably informed that the shadowy figures who worked behind the scenes and saw the sale of Ghana Airways very cheap were no other persons than Kwadwo Mpiani and Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, the 'darling boy' of the NPP who almost stole one of the government bungalows he was occupying when he was no longer in government.

Enter Ghana International Airlines (GIA). The NPP government made so much noise and fanfare of this new airline that they established promising that they were going to run the new national airline in a way that would generate record turnover for the benefit of the country. Good luck!

Fast forward. Its four years since GIA started operations. Ladies and gentlemen, the GIA has never flown to the United States even though the Kufour administration told Ghanaians that the airline was going to fly to that destination. In fact apart from London the airline has not been flying to any other destinations. Even when GIA made its maiden charter flight to Barbados on January 31, 2008, the passengers who were mostly students were abandoned for months before being rescued by the Kufour administration due to the severe embarrassment it was causing the then government. Unlike Ghana Airways which used to fly to the West Coast, South Africa, Europe and the United States, the GIA has become a one destination carrier.

Even flying to London has been inconsistently inconsistent for the GIA. The airline continues to have multiple cancelations. But wait to hear more. Just four years into its operations, the GIA according to a Daily Graphic report currently owes a whopping 59.36 million dollars, a yearly average of 14.84 million dollars. This is the kind of 'so-called legacy' and positive change that bootlickers like Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko would want to tell Ghanaians. If GIA can incur such a huge debt in four years, then what was the purpose of dissolving Ghana Airways?

The Graphic report quoting the acting Chief Executive of the GIA, Mrs. Gifty Annan-Myers, said currently the government has been supporting that bogus GIA with another whopping amount of 1.5 million dollars every month. Next time if Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko is writing one of his bogus and deceitful commentaries to extol the virtues and accomplishments of ex-President Kufour, these are some of the troubling issues he should look into and comment on.

The GIA is virtually halting to a ground even though its CEO for reasons best know to her is trying to throw dust into the eyes of Ghanaians by stating that GIA's future is bright. The GIA's future is bright of what? Can you say with certainty that a company that is supported with 1.5 million dollars by the government every month has a bright future? Come on Madam CEO. Please do not try to deceive yourself and Ghanaians because 1.5 million dollars is not peanuts.

The GIA has become more of a failure than even Ghana Airways. This is a fact that the NPP folks would not want to admit but would want to sweep under the carpet. The airline has simply failed to live up to expectations. At best GIA today is just there in name. The other time I have a friend ask if the airline is still even operating. This is one of the legacies the Kufour administration left Ghana which prompted him to reward himself with the huge end-of-service benefits.

I would suggest that President Mills set up a committee as a matter of national urgency to look into the overall activities of the GIA. Ghana cannot afford to throw 1.5 million dollars every month to salvage this bogus airline when we need money to fix our roads, hospitals and schools. The committee should even look into how the Ghana Airways was dissolved and sold. The committee should take stock of the assets that Ghana Airways had and be able to determine how they were disposed of, who they sold them to, how much the nation realized. The committee also needs to delve into the issue concerning the bid. I have information that the owner of Virgin Airlines, Richard Branson made a pitch to buy Ghana Airways at the time but Jake and 'Headmaster' Mpiani would have nothing to do with Richard Branson because he was unwilling to 'kick their butts' sorry, pay kick backs to them.

If Ghana Airways had been sold to Richard Branson Ghana would have benefitted a lot from the deal. Just ask Ghanaians who reside in the United Kingdom and I bet nine out of 10 would have nothing but positive comments to say about Richard Branson who has ran Virgin Atlantic even to the admiration of Americans and the Queen of England. But since that benefit was not going to reflect in the pockets of Mpiani, Jake and others, Richard Branson's effort in making a pitch to buy Ghana Airways was rebuffed. Mpiani seems to have a hand in every terrible thing that happened to the Kufour administration. In fact I would equate him to Karl Rove of the Bush Administration.

Many Ghanaians wonder why Kufour gave Mpiani unlimited powers unless certain things he did benefitted the ex-president. Otherwise Mpiani would not have become a tin god even in opposition. Mpiani would prove to be the undoing of Kufour's so-called legacy in the coming months. Many of the terrible things he did is stinking to the highest heavens and instead of him cooling down, Mpiani has rather decided to take the fight to the Mill's government.

Since Jake has cooled down a little bit after the 2008 election shocker, he would be able to recall and provide answers on all issues concerning Ghana Airways and the formation of GIA. I only mentioned Jake since I do not know if Mpiani has returned following his dash to the bush in the heat of startling revelations on government assets during the transition activities. This issue has to be looked into pretty soon for the benefit of Ghana.

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Ekua Kwansema
Ekua Kwansema, © 2009

The author has 75 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EkuaKwansema

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