The dismissal of Air Botswana’s general manger, Ben Dahwa and the dissolution of the board of directors on Tuesday by government is a sign that the latter had run out of patience. For a very long time government has pumped in billions of pulas to revive the airline whenever its coffers ran dry but to this day it has not realised its return on investment. As the airline’s sole shareholder, government recently committed to spend extra millions on re-fleeting Air Botswana, and as a result, allegedly felt it would be best to start afresh with new brains.
So far, neither Tshenolo Mabeo Minister of Transport and Communications nor the former Board chairman Nigel Dixon-Warren let alone Dahwa himself, have divulged the reasons for what minister Mabeo refers to as “amicable parting for economic reasons.”
Mabeo confirmed having dissolved the board, relieved Dahwa his position as well as having appointed finance manager, Agnes Khunwana to act until further notice, while the ministry is working around the clock to constitute the new board.
The national airline has a long turbulent history of operating at a loss.
Since Dahwa’s arrival in May 2014 there has been a series of accusations against him for alleged maladministration and nepotism at the airline. These led to the auditing firms, law enforcements agencies and individuals being invited to the Air Botswana headquarters to investigate in an attempt to clear the mist. Auditors made several reports, which allegedly vindicated the whistle-blowers. Although authorities are tight lipped on what led Mabeo to summon both Dahwa and the board at different times on Tuesday, sources suspect there’s more than meets the eye, especially in light of the circumstances under which Dahwa quickly departed the country without even being given time to hand over..
Mabeo meets the Board, Dixon-Warren
Botswana Guardian has learnt that after meeting with Dahwa, next on Mabeo’s agenda were the airline’s board members. Contrary to speculation that Board chairman, Dixon-Warren tendered his resignation last week Friday, sources say all board members were allegedly present except Kavis Kario at the Tuesday meeting. Mabeo is said to have asked the board for a brief on the airline’s performance and following a long discussion with them, delivered the bad news that government has decided to terminate Dahwa’s employment contract and to dissolve the board with immediate effect. Mabeo cited “economics reasons” and the “best interest of the airline” for government’s decision.
Speaking to Botswana Guardian Dixon-Warren would not be drawn to divulge details. “I think the best source of information is the ministry However, I can confirm that the board has been dissolved. I do not want to discuss why the board was dissolved because I am bound by confidentiality clause of Air Botswana that I should not divulge any confidential information to third parties. However, what I can confirm is that there have been a number of discussions taking place between the ministry and the board and the decision of yesterday (Tuesday) is final.”
Maintenance - ATR 72 saga
Among serious incidents that allegedly happened under the management team led by Dahwa, around which the investigation will revolve is that the national airline lost a substantial amount of money in maintenance of aircraft, particularly the ATR 72. It is alleged that procurement procedures were not followed when management engaged the services of engineers from South Africa to carry maintenance work on one of the ATR 72 in February. The engineers are alleged to have caused further damage as after their departure the aircraft experienced serious engine problems, which became an expensive exercise to normalise. In order to remedy the situation the Board is alleged to have engaged internal auditors to get to the bottom of the matter. The audit is said to have shown that procedures of tendering were flouted when the group of engineers was engaged. In fact, the audit showed that the engineers were unfamiliar with the ART 72 aircraft but that there had been an unwritten agreement with then that they would be supervised by Air Botswana engineers.
The Board is said to have discussed the issue at length but failed to reach consensus on it. Realising that some of the board members differed with his audit report, the auditor advised them to seek a second opinion which they did. Lo and behold, it’s said the second auditor confirmed the first report. Had the Board not been divided, it’s believed that Dahwa would have long left the airline’s management. Lingering questions that remain to be answered include how much it cost Air Botswana to lease a flight that replaced the ATR 72 while it was grounded from February 2015; how much it cost not only to repair the damaged engine which was removed from the aircraft and sent for repairs abroad, but, also how much it cost to pay for the leased engine which was installed on the aircraft while its engine was sent for repairs.
The Q-Pulse not utilised
The national airline is alleged to have been losing lots of money after purchasing state of the art software equipment named Q-Pulse, a proven quality, safety and risk management solution for use in maintenance, keeping stock of the spare parts and planning as well as record documentation. Although the equipment was bought before Dahwa arrived, it’s said that it has not been properly maintained and is under-utilised.
Botswana Guardian has to learnt that government agencies have been investigating the operations of the airline for some time, and such investigation still continue as a lot reportedly went wrong under Dahwa’s administration.
A number of senior management personnel were placed under suspension and are still serving to this day while others with many years of experience were forced to quit the airline. It said that currently most senior staff members are acting in their respective positions. Investigations will also cover the airline’s compliance with the IOSA audit which is carried out every two years.