KQ takeover of airport must not expose the nation

Ardent – that is the word that would describe my commitment to Kenya Airways (KQ). By choice I fly KQ unless extreme circumstances dictate otherwise. I arrived at this position years ago upon realisation that our national carrier can only compete in the global scene with our deliberate support. I therefore made a personal commitment to fly KQ exclusively. This has often been greatly inconvenient and at times quite expensive. For a long time, KQ was the most expensive airline on every route it flew. Thus, it took sheer sacrifice to stay with the national carrier. It therefore came as a great relief when the new management turned things around and now, KQ is quite competitive in pricing and quality of service. The airline services are definitely above many, in domestic and international routes. If this trend is maintained, there is no reason why KQ should not truly become: The Pride of Africa.

It is in this light that the on-going consideration to grant KQ the ownership and management of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) may be considered a wise move. Some pundits are of the view that the airport takeover – dubbed Project Simba – may help the airline move from the current fiscal sickbed and head home to a speedy recovery. There have been growing concerns that the airline has not been responding favourably to various interventions, especially the major surgery it underwent recently. The concern is that if this apparent immunity to medication continues, it may not withstand the stiff competition in the market. It is no wonder therefore that, upon receiving the KQ request, Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) appointed an adviser to conduct a comprehensive due diligence to ascertain the viability of Project Simba. However, while this may be all well and good, for those of us sitting in the hospital corridors, and with almost no idea of what these processes mean, our single and foremost concern is that these spin doctors are not quacks.

Restore and strengthen

It is in public domain that the last time KQ suffered serious haemorrhage, the ailing airline was flown to Netherlands for specialised treatment. The Royal Dutch Airline, KLM, apparently offered to donate some royal blood to help stabilise the patient. There was great excitement all round over this strategic partnership that was apparently meant to restore and strengthen KQ wings to enable it fly to the outer space usually reserved only for strong eagles. Unfortunately, several years down the road, KQ continued to grow thinner and weaker – the haemorrhage had not stopped. It was then a decision was made to subject the patient to intensive lab tests to determine the cause of this failure to respond to medication. A forensic audit by a global firm of auditors revealed shocking findings on the state of KQ.

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Of the many findings, two were significant. One was that there were serious and sophisticated looting schemes that were bleeding the airline dry. These viral attacks involved airline staff, booking agents, and crooked businessmen whose only agenda was to suck every blood out of the airline. The deals ranged from ticketing, cargo, jet fuel procurement, baggage manipulation, to theft of stock in aircraft maintenance. Through these rackets, the airline lost billions of shillings. In one case, for example, the airline is reported to have lost Sh77 billion in undervalued tickets or huge discounts given to travel agents, who nevertheless sold the tickets for a kill.

But, the second and most shocking revelation had to do with the KQ/KLM partnership. According to experts, this deal was so skewed in KLM’s favour that there was no way KQ could have benefited significantly out of it. At one point, a Senate inquiry was told that the partnership had plunged the airline into losses for three consecutive years. The partnership had come under scrutiny following a Sh26 billion loss posted by KQ in one financial year. In this scenario therefore, one shudders to imagine what would happen if KQ is bequeathed the custody of such prime public property as JKIA and then the same parasites come to prey on it. If this noble deal is to be confirmed, one hopes that it shall be designed such that the Airport is not part of any foreign partnership deals. It would be a grievous pity to come to a situation where our gateway is taken over by a foreign airline or state – ostensibly due to our lack of wisdom or failed obligations through KQ. Raondi hii, lazima tukae chonjo (We must be alert).

- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]

KQJKIAThe Pride of AfricaDavid Oginde