Quite a lot has been written and said about Ghana Airways, particularly in recent times that this exercise that we are embarking on today may seem irrelevant. But we think it is very necessary to (if for nothing at all) correct some of the misconceptions and sometimes utter lies that have been told and written, some of which are borne out by emotion, envy / jealousy and on occasion by sheer hatred for some of the staff of the institution that is called Ghana Airways. We are not here to indulge in self-praise but to tell our story in clear terms. Perhaps you may be wondering why title this piece “CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY; THE SAGA OF GHANA AIR WAYS' We have done so in order to bring to the fore the extent to which citizens of this country will go to denigrate their own institutions of state and the people in it, just because they do not work in it or appear not to have any association with it. It is apt to describe this state of affairs in the old Ghana adage “Etua wo yonko ho a na etua dua hu” to wit, “if it does not affect me, then it might as well be a tree that is affected.” And yet this is one country where we pride (no boast) ourselves of being a God-fearing country. We cannot simply be each other's keeper.
That is not to suggest that we should condone evil in any form. Indeed, we would like to suggest that most of our people will condone and sometimes participate in the perpetuation of evil deeds and when it is exposed, will turn round and castigate others if they have never heard or seen it before.
To really understand what has happened to Ghana Airways, there is a need to reflect a little on its history. As already noted, a lot has been said and written already but some of this needs to be recounted in order for all of us to understand the dynamics that has brought about the current situation. The airline was formed just after independence – 4 JULY, 1958 at the time to project the image of the African as seen in the eyes of the founder of the State then.
At the time, profit was not the motive. It should also be noted that the capital base albeit deficient was deemed to be sufficient for a start up airline at the time. Due to the very political nature of its beginnings, the caliber of personnel employed was not based solely on their qualifications, but other factors such as political considerations. In the case of the female Cabin crew (evidence abounds), most of them were girlfriends and relatives of ministers and government officials. And depending on the status of the minister or official in government in terms of rank and power that he wielded, one's salary was different.
Due to the very nature of the mode of employment, one can easily deduce that the foundation level of the infant airline was weak. It is sad to say that employment into certain departments of the airline has been plagued with political jockeying and influence peddling to date.
How then can anyone be able to bring discipline into such an organization when the appointment authority disregards discipline?
Today, so many of our countrymen are condemning Ghana Airways staff in every derogatory language that one can think of. The truth of the matter is that most of the staff are relatives of these people or live in their communities. What did society tell them when they saw what they thought was wrong? We can even postulate that certain members of society were active participants and or condone the so-called “crimes” that the staff were committing.
We are in no way attempting to absolve anyone of our members from any acts of commission or omission which they might have committed to bring the airline to this level. Indeed, some of us are culpable.
After the 1966 coup, the NLC announced that the airline was to be operated on commercial lines but nothing was done to move it in that direction. It was the same during the Progress Party, SMC I & II AFRC, PNP of 979 (Limann), PNDC, NDC till the turn of the NPP today. What is common, though to all of these regimes is that they kept appointing and disappointing Chief Executives and Boards of Directors like nobody's business to the extent that today, Ghana Airways has had almost equal numbers of Chief Executives as its number of years of existence.
All these appointments and disappointments were not informed by the desire to efficiently run the company, but by political affiliation and the benefits the individuals and groups i.e. Board of Directors and their families would derive from the conditions attached to the position, which they enjoy. We dare suggest that in all that period, the number of members of Board of Directors, if put together may be equal to half the staff strength of 1,165 that is being peddled as being so excessive. If the perks that all these people have enjoyed during this spell of time, are valued in monetary quantum, they could be enough to salvage Ghana Airways.
The truth of the matter is that most of these appointees did not have Ghana Airways at heart. They were there only to enjoy the free tickets for themselves and their families. That is why there has always been a scramble for seats on GH Board even in its present predicament.
There have been a few bright moments in the life of Ghana Airways. Though we hesitate to mention names, the period of 1980 to 1986 and thereabout were some of those glorious moments. At the time, we had four new aircraft i.e. 2 F.28s, 1 DC9-51 and 1 DC10-30. It is significant to note that aside the DC10 being new; it had very good maintenance from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines of Barbados and Uganda Airlines. Aside operating our own flights, we flew to Frankfurt, Brussels, Gatwick, St Lucia in Caribbean and Barbados and also to Kampala all in one week operation. Many foreigners in those days wondered how many DC10s GH operated.
This was possible, because the leadership was focused; and even though the staff were not paid much and have never been paid much, the leadership made everyone have hope for the future.
We have dwelt at length on appointments and disappointments because they form much of the basis of indiscipline that have made negative inroads into the sub-culture of Ghana Airways. And we dare say the same goes on in most SOEs.
WHEN DID GHANA AIRWAYS REALLY BEGIN TO CRUMBLE AND WHY?
The answer to the first part of this question is right at birth or inception. The answer as to why, has so many parts, some of which we have already enumerated above.
However, we shall attempt in this section to give a few.
* Lack of commitment – on the part of the government, the sole shareholder, to make it a profitable organization right from inception to date.
* Lack of Capital – flowing from the lack of commitment. There was no urge to inject capital into the airline as other countries do.
* Discipline – We should not gloss over the fact that most of the appointees to Ghana Airways' top job were not people who had expert knowledge of the airline industry nor were they even disposed to learn quickly on the job. They had to go through a long but costly learning curve. Because of the lack of knowledge of the appointees, they easily attracted to themselves sycophants and bootlickers.
* Due to some unholy affiliations by some staff members to political authority and some interest groups, they have spawned some form of “mafia” groups in the organization. They are thus untouchables and determining the fate of rather good personnel. Imagine, when one member of staff by name Joe Browne was asked to proceed on leave by management, there was a counter instruction from the Chief of Staff to remain at post. How does anyone enforce discipline when this sort of interference is exhibited from the highest office of state with impunity?
Therefore, depending on which colour of political persuasions the appointed CEO or board members are, the various 'mafioso' swing into action and crowd out the rest of the staff. The result of this is that, the CEO and or the board of directors become overwhelmed and take detrimental entrenched position based on which group grabs them.
The airline then ends up in a situation where the board and or minister may be on one side and the CEO and Castle may be on the other side or vice versa. Then the rest of the staff are left to do what they can to survive in such a poisoned atmosphere. These have gone on in all the 46-year history of Ghana Airways.
How can any organization survive in an atmosphere such as this?
Can anyone imagine a situation such as the simple preparation of Cabin Crew roster/schedule is influenced by the Castle?
This is because some ladies with some connection in that august house felt that they were not having their way in getting flights of their choice. Is it any wonder that a supposedly member of parliament – Mr. Kennedy Agyapong was heard recently on a Peace FM radio discussion, to have said that Ghana Airways have not made any progress because they do not employ beautiful girls; as if the mere employment of beautiful girls is a panacea for the solution of Ghana Airways problems. The statement was certainly borne out of crass ignorance. The whole debate on the resuscitation of Ghana Airways has been reduced to infantile and mediocre level.
Management: We wish to place on record that all the 40 or so odd CEOs and management task forces have been appointed solely by Governments as the sole owner. As the saying goes “Adwen poroo a, efiri ne ti” literally meaning “The fish rots from its head.” Therefore, if there is rot in Ghana Airways, instead of putting the blame on the world force, the Government must first look at itself and ask whether they have given Ghana Airways good managers and the necessary tools. And lest any political party makes capital out of this, this phenomenon has always been the case. The verdict is that Ghana Airways has not had good management and the government past and present must take the blame for it. The results are there to show.
During the previous regime, there was an attempt to appoint someone who could bring into the airline some sound business practice. Adverts were placed in the international arena, albeit at a very great cost to the bleeding airline. And interview was conducted and an Omani called Seif Mugheiry was appointed. This man came to Ghana with a view to take up appointment and was sidelined by then chairman of the Interim Management Committee – Mr. F. L. Quartey Jnr.who eventually became the substantive CEO through political machinations and the rest is history.
The political stranglehold on Ghana Airways sent people like the late Vice President K. N. Arkaah packing out of Ghana Airways after only 3 months in office. And when he left, he went to the Gambia and helped to set up the Gambia National Trading Corporation.
Politics – We would like to caution that, no political party tries to use Ghana Airways as part of their launch pad, because it is our belief that all parties past and present have played roles in the near demise of Ghana Airways. For example, we have heard a political party claiming that in their time, things were better at Ghana Airways. The fact on the ground is that in that party's time, the most lucrative part(s) of Ghana Airways, i.e. the ground operations and cargo were given gratis to AFGO.
Where they did not succeed in sequestering it to their cronies as in the case of the Airways Catering Limited, they encouraged their friends to set up a rival company – 1st Catering, and helped divert business with the top carriers into the country to that company from ACL. Do you know that 1st Catering was going to be built right behind ACL? But for the vigilance of the press and probably one sane voice somewhere, that would have happened because the foundations actually started.