Zambians are an interesting lot. A bunch of Chinese guys are appointed as police reserves and they erupt with outrage, prompting a reversal of the decision. A cute cop has a photo of her posted online and it goes viral with endless analysis on the length of her skirt. Yet the government is about to waste $30 million on a national airline we don’t need and most people either don’t care or they approve of the move.
What is wrong with us? Is it that our minds are so used to thinking in simple terms that we cannot compute what it means to throw money down a bottomless pit while people still die due to lack of drugs in hospitals? We have so much money to waste that we buy useless fire trucks for $42 million, overpriced ambulances, dredgers that never arrive and we even buy expired drugs!
I am wondering why the many millions that will be wasted on Zambia Airways doesn’t bother enough of us. Many of us are welcoming the move, apparently due to misplaced nostalgia that we once had a national carrier proudly carrying our colours. Is this pride worth $30 million plus all the other many more millions that will be wasted thereafter? So for those of you supporting the revival of Zambia Airways, I want you to please answer these points:
1. Last time I checked, only 7 out of 42 parastatals were profitable. As I write this, Times of Zambia is bankrupt with employees going many months without pay. TAZARA is in a similar situation. Zamtel is also basically bankrupt a mere 5 years after it was illegally nationalized and its professional management thrown out at gunpoint (it needs $300 million to be recapitalized). What makes you think Zambia Airways will be any different? Did it ever make a profit in its previous incarnation?
2. If the Zambian government has found some magic formula to make a viable airline (despite all the evidence of failed national airlines the world over), why haven’t all the other governments in the world that have struggling airlines used the same formula? Why haven’t aspects of this magic formula already been tested and proved in the 35 or so failing Zambian parastatals?
3. The claim that having a national airline accrues benefits to the nation that outweigh the costs of maintaining it is utterly ludicrous and patently absurd with ZERO proof. What are those benefits that are bringing in millions every year? Can we see the numbers? Do you really believe that the decision to fly with a particular airline has anything to do with whether it is a foreign or national airline (especially for a tourist from abroad)?
4. Are people failing to come into Zambia or leave due to lack of a national airline? Have Ethiopian Airways, South African Airways or British Airways failed to service any profitable route? If unprofitable routes have been neglected, why should tax payer money be wasted on them?
5. Isn’t it obvious that a national airline will be abused and misused to the maximum by politicians who shall be flying on credit and cripple the airline’s cash position, making it lose standards and business? Isn’t it obvious that ruling party cadres will get jobs in Zambia Airways and all contracts to supply things like office furniture, stationery, uniforms, vehicles, cleaning services, etc will go to them?
6. Isn’t it even more obvious that as a result of point 5, Zambia Airways will be run inefficiently with too many irrelevant employees and it will keep chewing tax payer money to keep it afloat? Are you happy for your taxes to be wasted like this while your relative in the village has to walk 10km a day to a school without desks and chairs?
7. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has projected that Africa’s airlines are expected to make a combined loss of $100 million in 2018. It seems someone has not read the memo on this. Some people say it is okay to run an airline at a loss for even ten years like Ethiopian Airways did. Firstly, airlines like Ethiopian and Emirates made a profit later after some years due to professional management and government having a hands-off approach which never happens in Zambia. Secondly, there are unique circumstances that enabled those airlines to eventually succeed but the situation in Zambia is very different and more difficult in many ways. For example, the United Arab Emirates government has deep pockets, but Zambia does not.
8. What happens when people begin shunning Zambia Airways if it is usually late, inefficient and has poor standards? Or what if it just flops, for whatever reason? Who will foot the bill for all the empty seats?
9. Is a useless national airline the best use of $30 million? Aren’t there are many other better ways to invest and get a real return within a short time rather than wait for ten years with no guarantees? Why not invest in maize production capacity and sell to Congo DR who will pay cash? How many medium scale value addition factories can be set up with $30 million? Or loans to entrepreneurs? How about pumping the $30 million into a student loan scheme which shall produce skilled manpower?
10. How can it make sense to waste money like this at a time when we are trying to get a loan from the IMF and when the budget is running at a deficit? Do you think IMF will give us $1.3 billion, knowing full well that some of the money will end up subsiding a loss-making national airline? Would you lend money to someone to buy food when you see him go to drink beer every weekend?
11. When Zambia eventually defaults on its debts and Zambia Airways is inevitably forced to close down (again) due to a cash crisis in the Zambian treasury, will supporters of this wasteful venture still insist it was worth it for the country?
12. What will happen to local airlines like Proflight Air Services, Royal Air Charters and Mahogany Air? Will government bump them off the market by law and kill them off, leading to job losses? Will people be forced to fly on a sub-standard Zambia Airways airline that has no competition?
I challenge the airline supporters to clearly show what value Zambia Airways will add to the nation and put some numbers to their valuation, comparing with the cost of running the airline. Bear in mind that there are already international airlines operating in Zambia which are already adding whatever value you want to claim for Zambia Airways.
Cabinet approves Zambia Airways rebirth as it sets aside US$30 million for the airline
Zambia Police Drafts 8 Chinese Nationals into the Police Reserve Unit
Mwami Namilota; Too Sexy for the Zambia Police Service