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Opinions of Tuesday, 2 June 2009

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GIA-Which way forward??

There have been quite a number of articles written on Ghana International Airlines (GIA) and the present state that it finds itself in. For some reason, we as a country seem to be at our wits end unable to figure out which direction GIA should go and how to turn it into a viable company. The truth of the matter is if we decide to approach its management with the same old ‘Ghanaian mentality’ of doing things, we can be sure GIA would remain on the ‘tarmac’ On the other hand if we realize that we need to change our approach and attitude to management and chart a different course then hopefully in the next decade GIA may well become the centerpiece of our nationhood that it once was. There is always the need to study the past in order to understand the present and plan for the future. The national carrier has had a rather chequered history since its establishment.

It is reported that the ‘Osagyefo’ used to order flights with no passengers on board just to show the rest of the world that we, as Africans, could fly. Never mind whether it made sense economically or not. So with such a ‘rich’ history is it any wonder that subsequent managements (Ghanaian) over the years decided to treat the airline like a ‘fat cow’ that never runs out of milk?-Free tickets for employees and their families; bonuses upon bonuses for employees even in the face of nonperformance and mismanagement. Nobody cared whether these practices were sustainable or not. We all sat down and watched as these practices went on. And like any business built on such a model, the end was inevitable. It all came crashing down and what a heavy fall that was. And just like Ghanaians, we all suddenly became airline experts. Everybody had the perfect plan to salvage the collapsed airline, Ghana Airways. The NDC had the opportunity to overhaul the ‘system’ but its interventions fell short. Finally the then new government of the NPP decided to tackle the problem head-on. Among the number of proposals put forward was one by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC). Personally, I believed that proposal from PWC was the best out of the lot. The government of Ghana was going to pay PWC a rather princely amount of money and in exchange have PWC manage and run the national airline for a number of years. PWC hoped to turn around the fortunes of the airline, by which time management reverts to the government. But before anybody could say jack, contents of the proposal had leaked to the media and all hell broke loose. I remember a particular journalist boasting on radio how he ‘intercepted’ the documents between the offices of PWC (then at the Gulf House) and the Castle. What was the noise about??? Oh, the money involved in the contract was too much. How could the government give so much money to PWC just to manage Ghana Airways? Are there not competent and qualified Ghanaians out there who could turn the company around? (Forget that it was the same ‘competent and qualified’ Ghanaians who had ran the company aground in the first place). On and on and on, it went. Instead of the government standing its ground and finding better ways of explaining to ordinary Ghanaians why it was necessary to take such a measure, they capitulated and that marked the end of the deal. I bet, that to the NPP, they were just being the ‘listening’ government they had promised to be. That argument does not hold water as far as I am concerned, but who am I anyway?-Just a proud Ghanaian who wants to see his country succeed!! That was one big disappointment if ever there was one. Where did that leave us? Well here we are with GIA that seems incapable of getting off the ground. I would say ‘ayekoo’ to that journalist who spearheaded the campaign against PWC. He knows who he is. I believe he is proud of himself now, and I want to believe also that he flies GIA anytime he travels!! What hypocrisy!!! In Ghana we are not ready to pay for a viable national airline, but we have no problem paying huge amounts of money to expatriates to coach our national football team. Apparently, a football team is more important than an airline. We would gladly dish out bonuses to footballers for winning one match but we cannot pay our medical staff to work in the rural areas. We would even promise winning bonuses to these players even before they kick the ball, and that’s also fine but our teachers can shout themselves hoarse about improved conditions of service and nobody cares. This is Ghana; we have our own unique set of priorities!! Well, maybe we believe we can always travel by Air Morrocco or South African Airways or some other airline but we cannot pay the Hawks of Togo to play in our stead. Priorities? What priorities??

The media has a very important role to play in our present attempt at ‘democracy’ but shouldn’t their criticisms and attacks be based on objective facts? Should they just be interested in running to the presses or to the airwaves at the first hint of ‘news’? Are they not required to inform and educate the populace? How do they ‘inform and educate’ if they don’t go the extra step of digging deeper? As a country, if we continue on this path, we would be going nowhere! We cannot continue to ‘beat ourselves into a frenzy’ anytime we disagree with a policy of the government. We need reasoned and intelligent discussions by experts (in the true sense of the word) on issues and not so-called ‘analyses’ by ‘talking heads’ on radio and T.V.

It was a similar story with the rather infamous CNTC (?) loan. Governments all over the world have the option of borrowing from the Bretton Woods Institutions or from the private capital market. In fact studies show that it is better borrowing from the latter. Private capital markets tend to have favourable and concessionary rates and terms. I think it was a wise policy decision when the NPP government decided to go that route and leave the IMF and its cousins to their devices. But unlike these institutions, private capital markets may not have straightforward locations and addresses. The reason being that these private entities try to ‘hide’ their monies from their respective government, in order to dodge paying taxes. So they carry these monies to accounts in Liechtenstein, Bahamas, Monaco and other known and unknown tax havens. So if the address of such an entity happens to show a beauty salon, what has that got to do with the money itself? Do they have the money or not? Can they deliver on the rates agreed on or not? These were the pertinent issues that needed to be raised; instead we spent the whole time shouting malfeasance and misappropriation. Led by the media, the people and, of course, the opposition ‘milked’ the situation for all it was worth. Meanwhile the government was in a dilemma because they were not in the position to reveal such details about a potential lender to the whole world. In the end Ghana did not get the money and I guess we are the better for it, right?

We are no saints and we should stop pretending that we are. The world is not fair and the mantra is” eat or be eaten”. We should be aggressive and, at all times, seek our own interest as a country. Now I hear the government has gone back to the IMF, even when we (Ghana) have documented and experiential evidence of their inimical policies towards Africa. Interestingly, I have heard no objections from Kwesi Pratt and the Third World Network of Dr. Graham. I thought they were for internal revenue generation and self-reliance. Yeah, talk is always cheap!

For GIA, I would like to suggest that the NDC government go back to the PWC proposal and have a look. Some time has elapsed since its original formulation so there may be the need for some review and adjustments. In the absence of a better alternative, I believe that should do the trick for GIA.

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