• June 2nd, 2020

Air Namibia: Separating facts from fiction

I am a political office bearer appointed by the Head of State according to the powers given to him as per Article 32 of the Namibian Constitution. 

On 21 March 2015, I took an oath to “affirm that I will be faithful to the Republic of Namibia, hold my office as Minister with honor and dignity, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and faithfully obey, execute and administer the laws of the Republic of Namibia, serve the people of Namibia to the best of my ability, not divulge directly or indirectly any matters brought before the Cabinet and entrusted to me under secrecy, and perform the duties and functions of my office and the functions entrusted to me by the President conscientiously and to the best of my ability.”

I abide by this oath with all my integrity, intentions, and complete commitment to execute my duty to the very best of my ability. The office I’ve been appointed to deals with multiple sensitive items and I feel convicted to uphold and protect the integrity of that office at all times with transparency and full accountability to create trust and ensure that the public remain confident in the office and the portfolio thereunder. 

Various allegations have been made over the past three years alleging an allegiance between me and Westair Aviation. These allegations have once again resurfaced following recent reports of economic and operational distress at Air Namibia and the announcement by Westair that they will proceed with scheduled domestic and regional operations. 

On 22 March 2017 I received a document titled “Namibia Aircraft Leasing Proposal” from Westair. The proposal was a potential PPP arrangement with Air Namibia to establish a company to co-manage a fleet of Embraer Aircraft. I advised them to approach Air Namibia directly to discuss the possibility of such a venture after which it would have to follow due process by Air Namibia before government approval could be sought. 

Then, on 31 March 2017, I was invited to attend a meeting with a visiting delegation of Airbus at State House. During this meeting the Airbus delegation shared a concept proposal to establish a “Revenue Based Fishing and Environmental Control System” utilising the Airbus satellite network. The proposal was to consider either establishing a new entity for this purpose to use an existing public enterprises to perform this function. 

The Ministry of Public Enterprises was duly delegated to evaluate the proposal and to visit the Airbus satellite facility in France for this purpose. The vice-president of Airbus responsible for Africa then invited us to plan this visit to coincide with the Paris Airshow on 19 June 2017. We duly accepted and I visited Airbus in Paris and Toulon where their factory and satellite facility is located. 

I was accompanied by two officials from the Ministry of Public Enterprises as well as an official from the Ministry of Fisheries. No meetings or discussions took place with any party regarding Air Namibia aircraft or any potential sale of any aircraft during this mission.

In July 2017, I learnt that Westair had intentions to grow their fleet and that while they were scouting for additional Embraer aircraft, they were informed that the French owners of the Embraer Aircraft (a company called HOP) at the time intended to sell the aircraft that Air Namibia was leasing. When I enquired about this, I was informed that Air Namibia had not communicated their intentions to purchase the aircraft from the owners and in case where they waive their right, the aircraft would be available to any buyer.  On 3 August 2017, I had a meeting with the Air Namibia board where they briefed us on various pertinent issues and amongst them their desire to replace their leased Embraer 135 aircraft with the slightly larger 145 version further creating the impression that they might not be interested in the 135s they were leasing. Some time after this I was informed that Air Namibia had seemingly changed their mind and indeed wanted to purchase the aircraft they were leasing.  Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila chaired a meeting on 16 October, attended by me, the ministers of finance and works and transport and the Air Namibia board where the Embraer lease issue was discussed.  The issue was referred to the Cabinet Committee on Public Enterprises and a meeting was held on 2 November where agreement was reached to convert the operating leases of the four Embraer 135s into purchase finance leases. The Ministry of Public Enterprises played an active role to ensure that Air Namibia retained the aircraft and the processing of the item was expedited. The item was then duly approved by Treasury and the transaction was concluded. There was an allegation that I met with HOP and Westair in Paris during the above-mentioned visit and, even more absurd, allegation that I travelled to Paris on a Westair aircraft. From the above information it should be clear that both I and the Ministry acted in the best interest of the airline at all times that all of the associated allegations are entirely of a fictitious nature. Now back to more recent times. The Cabinet Committee on Public Enterprises was tasked to facilitate the appointment of a consultant to evaluate the current business model of Air Namibia and to propose a more suitable business model that would allow for Air Namibia to reach a breakeven position within a three-year period.  The consultants were appointed by Air Namibia and completed the first part of their assignment which is to identify the optimal business model for the airline. This report has given us a more accurate picture of the various realities surrounding Air Namibia and what may be required to restore the commercial viability of our Airline. During recent deliberations at the Cabinet Committee on Treasury (CCT) the Air Namibia cashflow and associated challenges were discussed. This finally culminated in a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Overall Policy and Priorities (CCOPP) that was held on Wednesday, 5 June 2019. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the feasibility of Air Namibia and the way forward.  The submission was prepared under the auspices of the CCT and was therefore a collective submission (not from any individual Minister or Ministry). CCOPP deliberated on the item and referred the item back to CCT for specific tasks which I can’t share at this point because and Action Letter has not been issued yet. Air Namibia will be discussed at the next CCT meeting where various interventions and options will be interrogated before further recommendations will be made to the CCOPP.  Once again, allegations have been levelled against me (and others) that there is an apparent concerted effort to “kill Air Namibia” and for Westair to benefit from the demise of our National Carrier. 
Leon Jooste is Namibia’s Minister of Public Enterprises. He delivered these remarks at a press conference in Windhoek on Tuesday.

Staff Reporter
2019-06-14 10:46:56 | 11 months ago

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