You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2002 02 24Article 21937

Opinions of Sunday, 24 February 2002

Columnist: Akyeampong Kobby

Ghana Airways Blues Again

Not all of us are lucky enough in life (or in this case unlucky enough) to have second bite at the cherry but some are. Sam Essoun Jonah has his first major encounter with the notorious Ghana Airways under the Rawlings era. As chairman of the board then, he brought in the SpeedWing management team whose handling of the national airline and performance apparently left much to be desired. At the time of SpeedWing’s departure, the airline was in great difficulty, operating only two aircraft, with one of them being a leased plane. During this period, the airline also employed a staff of 1300, and had no regional operations whatsoever and indeed had cockroach infested aircraft.

The second coming of Sam Jonah was announced with great promise and hope for the airline. The previous management team was heavily criticized for mismanagement, excessive borrowing and an over ambitious expansion of the route network, and poor profitability. Essentially, the previous management team was not credited with any achievements.

With much glitz, the new management, under Sam Jonah chairmanship, set about advertising and publicizing how well they had turned the company around in six months. While the question has been asked as to why he did not achieve all this good stuff the first time around as board chairman of Ghana Airways, other have been quick to respond by saying that he has benefited from his first round experience.

Poor service delivery


In all fairness to the Ghanaian public, the question that has to be asked is what has been achieved so far from the standpoint of the customer? The flight are woefully late, there is still over booking and cancellation of flights. Realistically, the situation has actually deteriorated. It is a fact that Ghana Airways on several occasions checked in passengers as far as the boarding gate and then cancelled the flight destined for New York for the usual technical reasons. This was against the fact that there were three aircraft on the tarmac at the time of cancellation.

Insiders from Ghana Air say that the flight was cancelled because there were no funds for fuel, or there were not enough passengers to make the flight profitable. Either way based on these explanations, passengers were made very uncomfortable and the airline incurred expenses in housing the passengers in hotels. There was another occasion where a passenger had to pay for the cost of fuel before the aircraft was allowed to depart Abidjan.

The current situation, despite the profits that are being announced, does not appear to be better but indeed worse than is being presented by the Sam Jonah team. The airline’s debt has risen over the last nine months from a reported $120 million to over $140 million. Ghana Airways has been out of the IATA clearing house ( a sort of banking system for all reputable airlines) for over six months since the Sam Jonah team took over.

Ironically, the last time this happened was during the era of SpeedWing, the consulting team brought in by the same Sam Jonah. The present biggest embarrassment is that all the code share agreements with South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have all been cancelled due to Ghana Airways non payment of bills generated in its operations. So the question really is- are things improving as Ghanaians are being told by the Sam Jonah led management team?

Much was said about the reopening of new routes and these new routes opened by the previous management were promptly closed. Some of the those routes are now being opened but one wonders whether this is akin to turning the light switch on and off, and expect the same or better patronage in term of passengers. The recent reports of several airline coming to a standstill suggests that other who have been judged harshly in the immediate past should be given credit for being able to keep the airline going.

Under hand dealings


There are many interesting issues which need addressing in Ghana Air. For instance how were the remains of the DC9 in Conakry, Guinea disposed off and who were behind that deal. Also questions need to be asked ranging from the dismissal/ resignation of the chief pilot to the demotion of staff seen as having been recruited by the previous management.

There is also the issue of board members travelling on a supposed task force assignment with the Board secretary in respect to the airlines’ excess baggage and reservation system. The entire board was away for weeks on an assignment that would have taken just a few days, and lived in the most expensive hotels in Europe at a time that the airline was believed to be in poor financial health. The was against the fact that the flying crew are insultingly now being told to move to cheaper hotels to save costs.

Nervous appointments

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to comment on the salary paid to the former Acting CEO. G.K. Owusu after asking the staff to make sacrifices to the tune of a 30% pay cut, went ahead and collected a hefty $10,000 a month. When he was challenged , he contrived a clever but meaningless excuse that the money was paid out to a consulting firm. The point is that whether the money was paid to a consulting firm or not , it still represents money that Ghana Airways had to pay for that position which he occupied. In a time of crises, why did Mr Owusu not take less? When asked about this at a pilots meeting, G.K.Owusu stormed out of the meeting. In addition to all these, G.K. Owusu collected per diems to the tune of $1500 per month on his so called numerous trips abroad. Admittedly, this total of about $11,500( including his net salary) pales into insignificance when compared with Rex Lezard of SpeedWing, whose salary was $30,000 a month.

The Acting CEO who on several occasions described himself as an angel was reported to have traveled for about a third of the time that he was at post. The question is how could the acting CEO travel so frequently when he was heading an organization he claimed to be in dire straits. The answer that was adduced was that he traveled to solicit for fund for the airline and also pursue aircraft purchases and attend a few seminars. This being so, what real tangible benefits has the airline enjoyed for all these travels?

From the fragile state that Ghana Airways finds itself, there is little hint that G.K. Owusu made any meaningful impact for the time he was at the helm. At his farewell meeting G.K. Owusu is alleged to have admitted that he was mislead by certain individual in the airline who sought to back bite and destroy others. He also admitted that he was leaving more debts than he came to meet. In the six months that he was at the helm, he had cost Ghana Airways nearly $70,000 in the most difficult times.

The question of why G.K.Owusu left after a mere six months on the job is also of immense concern. Why was successor to the former CEO not identified and recruited within that period? Was it really necessary to have someone act in a corporation that was supposedly in deep financial troubles and in the process changed head twice within a space of seven months and now is in the hands of a task force?

Who is next?


There ample evidence that there is infighting within the task force between members as to who should be the next CEO. The names being mentioned include Captain Kofi Kwakwa and Mr Joe Browne. While Captain Kwakwa seems to be the favorite for the job, he suffers from a lack of any managerial degree courses relating to the airline industry. He also lacks the requisite experience for a job of this magnitude.

Mr Joe Browne , the other contender for the position of CEO is very tainted and despite his frantic attempts at distancing himself from the previous management team on both TV and radio, it is very conclusive that he was very much a part of the previous management. In fact he carried out very questionable dealings without reporting to the then CEO. It came to light that he was responsible for the purchase of spare parts at exorbitant prices. He was also involved in the engine transactions and outsourcing of parts when he was a deputy head of the engineering department. His role in the aircraft acquisition for both DC9s and DC10s is also well documented because he was a key player in most of the negotiations and undertook aircraft inspections.

While he was the head of strategic planning he was very reluctant to volunteer information to the entire management concerning his outfit. It is believed that had he volunteered very critical information and made written recommendations on the record, Ghana Airways would have been in a far better position than it presently finds itself. His actions depict a calculated act of sabotage.

The race promises to be a hot one that will attract a photo finish. Although Mr Joe Browne has an MBA and therefore management background to combine with his technical knowledge, he has failed as trainee pilot and does not have the highest qualifications in terms of DC10 aircraft engineering. He has not got good interpersonal relations and not a good motivator of his workforce.

Captain Kwakwa on the other hand is a very accomplished and respected DC10 captain but also does not have the necessary people skills. His lack of people skills was exhibited when as a training captain on a DC9, pilots assigned under him boycotted their training because of his bad interpersonal skills. These two seem to have the political backing. Speculation is that Mr Joe Browne who is the son in law of BJ da Rocha has the support of the chairman of the board Sam Jonah. It was during Sam Jonah’s era as board chairthat Mr Joe Browne underttok his master’s degree. Captain Kofi Kwakwa on the other hand is well liked and respected by the president JA Kufuor. A safe bet will be placed on Captain Kofi Kwakwa eventually.

However, if there is to be unity and minimal victimization or polarization in Ghana Airways, then it is best to bring in someone with no ties within the present structure as it is. This assertion is based on the fact that these old guards now in a fight for the top job, have over the period undermined their leaders and should be weeded out for a welcome change. There is certainly a tough nut for the minister of transport and the board to crack with the second coming of Sam Jonah because there more challenges ahead and let us hope there will be no third coming and that Sam Jonah will stick to his present task.