Wilderness Holdings made a hasty retreat on Friday afternoon from their expression of interest for the acquisition of national airliner Air Botswana, following a public outburst and criticism over the involvement of President Ian Khama in the deal. A leaked Presidential Directive CAB 12 (A) 2017 made headlines midweek showing that Khama had ordered Cabinet to deliver the national airline to Wilderness Holdings on a silver platter, in a controversial partnership despite there being other interested potential investors. In a press statement released on Friday, the Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed company said they have decided to not pursue the matter any further. "The Company has been informed by the Ministry of Transport and Communications that the Government of Botswana wishes to enter into discussions with the Company regarding this matter. However, after careful deliberation, the Company has decided to not pursue the matter any further. Accordingly, the Company has withdrawn its Expression of Interest and has advised the Government of its decision,” reads part of the statement. The withdrawal is said to come due to pressure from shareholders who felt that negative publicity regarding the acquisition was harming the company’s reputation and diluting their shares.
On Wednesday, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications Kabelo Ebineng revealed that in February government issued an Express of Interest (EOI) notice inviting companies, consortiums or service providers capable of offering efficient air transport services to meet the needs of Botswana’s business and tourism sectors by operating Air Botswana. The EOI was closed on February 28 and in March an evaluation was conducted. Two South African companies, CeMair and Wilderness Holdings were shortlisted for consideration. Although Ebineng revealed that Cabinet preferred Wilderness Holdings to partner with Air Botswana, he struggled to state the experience or expertise of the company in aviation and if they have a fleet of aircrafts. In the end, he asked the PAC to give him more time to conduct research about the company. Meanwhile, sources at the Ministry of Transport and Communications allege that Wilderness Holdings was disqualified during adjudication because they did not meet some requirements in the EOI. It was Cemair which scored the highest mark followed by Comair both of South Africa, but Khama allegedly coerced cabinet to approve partnership with Wilderness Holdings. The pulling out of Wilderness Holdings has paved the way for CeMair which was the one preferred by both Cabinet and experts at Ministry of Transport and Communications. It is alleged that at the height of the Air Botswana controversy the Minister of Transport and Communications, Kitso Mokaila, threatened to resign both from Cabinet and Parliament should the deal go ahead. After the Presidential Directive, Mokaila is said to have made it clear to President Khama that he will tender his resignation as he does not want to be associated with that development.
BNF threatens to sue
The opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) has on the back of the privatisation of Air Botswana threatened to take court action against the sale of national assets. Its spokesperson Justin Hunyepa said there is no accountability and transparency in the selection process. His party’s leadership was to meet this week to determine course of action while demanding a detailed report on how state entities are being sold.
Who are CeMair?
The company is a South African Part 121 (large aircraft operator) and Part 135 (small aircraft operator) company, holding South African Civil Aviation Authority issued AOCs (Air Operator Certificates) in both of these categories. It is was formed in 2005 with operating and leasing experience throughout Africa and the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Kenya, Mali, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Zambia, as well as South Africa. Last year it completed its first IOSA audit (IATA Operational Safety Audit) and was fully accredited mid last year. It has a large fleet of 12 CRJ 100/200 LR Airliners, nine Beech 1900D aircraft, two Dash-8 Q300’s and one Dash-8 100. CemAir is an IOSA-registered operator.