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On ATCL: Hon. Nundu preaches water but drinking wine

Discussion in 'Biashara, Uchumi na Ujasiriamali' started by ByaseL, Jun 20, 2011.

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    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    Jun 20, 2011
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
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    I hold Honorable Omar Nundu, the current Minister of Transport in high esteem. He's a professional aviator and very much respected in the region. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that I should always agree with him. Hon. Nundu has recently been making headlines in the press. The Minister has been embroiled in a tug of war with the Parliamentary Infrastructure Development Committee (PIDC) headed by Hon. Peter Serukamba. The Committee is accusing his ministry for just paying a lip service to the air transport, railways and ports sectors. PIDC contends that very little funds have been allocated in the Ministry's 2011/12 Budget to revive ATCL, revamp Tanzania Railways and improve the Ports.

    The committee is adamant, come rain or shine, it will not recommend the Ministry's Budget Estimates to go through the ongoing Parliament session in Dodoma. Apparently Nundu is not a pushover politician. He set up an interview with ITV which was aired on Monday, June 6[SUP]th[/SUP], 2011. Nundu came out guns blazing to explain why the status quo regarding his Budget should prevail. He told listeners his vision how the aforementioned entities can get moving without depending on the exchequer. Admittedly, I could hear a lot sense in his discourse but I have some reservations on certain issues, specifically on ATCL.

    I was disappointed to hear Nundu peddling the tired litany of excuses regarding the situation at ATC House. I got a feeling the Minister may also be a victim of the stereotype bug. It's increasingly becoming fashionable for politicians to play the blame game by using the boards and managements (administration) of public enterprises as scapegoats for whatever goes wrong as if the government isn't culpable. Nundu used the Daladala analogy to explain the situation at ATCL. Listen to this. "If you buy two Dalalalas for your child and advance him/her some working capital, you don't expect that child to come back to request for money to pay salaries and maintenance for the vehicles. That would be recklessness", said the Minister. To be candid, this song and dance left me between tears and laughter. So like his predecessor, Hon. Shukuru Kawambwa, Nundu is also in self-denial!

    I have a different perspective on the ATCL quandary. It's like arranging the marriage for your daughter and a few years later the relationship isn't working. The couple divorce and your daughter walks out with some children to start her separate life. As she starts to stabilize you lure her into another relationship with a promising rich man which of course turns out to be short-lived. Meanwhile she has added more mouths to feed and her "new catch" is nowhere to be seen! To add salt to injury you turn the tables and accuse her of behaving like the Biblical Ms. Gomer-the adulterous wife of Prophet Hosea. Treachery!

    The long and short of the above analogy is this. Before Air Tanzania and South African Airways (SAA) became "bedfellows" in 2003 the airline (though not profitable) was making ends meet. By the time ATCL parted ways with SAA in 2006 it was indebted to the tune of Tshs. 13.3 billion! When the new Administration took over in 2007 ATCL was getting the subsidy from the government at Tshs. 500 million per month. This subvention was immediately frozen but the Administration was able to prune costs and reduce the monthly hemorrhage to Tshs. 280 million from Tsh. 1.1billion. As the situation was beginning to stabilize China Sonagol Holding Corporation Ltd (CSHCL) came in, courtesy of the government. Truth must be told. It's CSHCL which drained "petrol out of the engine"- the bane of ATCL's revival.

    I challenge the minister to show any record where the administration made a request to lease an Airbus 320 and acquisition of two used Dash-8 aircraft. It's on record that the Administration was bulldozed and bamboozled into a one-sided affair with CSHCL amid kicks and screams while the Government decided to look the other side. Is the minister pretending to be oblivious that the administration successfully negovernmentiated with Wallis Trading Company to reduce the lease charges of an A320 when the aircraft prices came down tumbling but the Government didn't give a damn? How about the board's recommendation to the Government to terminate the A320 contract which has been gathering dust in the minister's office? As we speak the A320's jungle of debt has piled up to about Tshs. 44 billion, thanks to the Government's nonchalant attitude. By pointing the finger at the administration on managerial shortcomings while avoiding the real causes of ATCL's deep seated problems, surely Hon. Nundu must be reading his brief notes on the "patient" upside down.

    I entirely agree with Hon. Nundu on the notion of getting the private sector participation in ATCL because gone are the days when governments used to breastfeed national carriers. In fact he's preaching to the converted. However, if what we are hearing is true, I'm afraid the Minister could be preaching water during the day but drinking wine at night! Reliable sources have it that recently the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) approached the Minister and expressed interest in acquiring ATCL but Nundu apparently wasn't forthcoming and instead advised the AKF to set up its own outfit and leave ATCL alone! In my view, if there's a private investor who can turn around ATCL, it's the AKF. In this context Air Uganda is a good showcase.

    The position taken by the Minister regarding non-payment of salaries for ATCL workers is spot on but the reality on the ground is baffling. How can the Government justify payment of salaries to staff such as B737-200 pilots and engineers who have been idle since 2009? It's illegal and immoral. The illegality part of it is because this country doesn't operate a social benefit system that allows payment for citizens who are jobless. It's immoral in the sense that while the Government continues to fork out a lot of money for ATCL's freeloaders, retired General Mrisho Sarakikya is lamenting about being paid a meager Tshs. 50,000 monthly pension! The often cited reason of keeping the rare but redundant professional staff on the payroll for a rainy day can no longer wash. There shouldn't be anymore second guessing on the staff issue. Furlough some of them now.

    Having said that, the Minister's roadmap on ATCL is somehow credible and probably the only option that can save the airline from going six feet under. All he needs to do is to stop nit-picking, tone down on rhetoric and take the bull by the horns-"Magufuli style" to reorganize the airline quickly and be open-minded about suitors interested in ATCL. He needs to put his ducks in the row and get all hands on deck to be able to do what he thinks ought to be done so that it can be done. Short of this his vision on ATCL will be akin to a flight to El-Dorado.

    Byase Luteke