Former Transport Minister William Harrington says it will be impossible for the country to run a national airline based on past experiences of the liquidated Zambian Airways.
Reacting to President Michael Sata’s sentiments on the country not having a national airline despite being rich in natural resources, Mr. Harrington stated that Zambia does not have the resources to operate a national airline adding that the only way a national airline would work is through partnership with the private sector.
Mr. Harrington further challenged government to do its research well on the issue of opening a national airline and hoped the proposal to open an airline was not just to fulfil its campaign promises of creating employment.
“Yes we need employment but I do not think it should come by creating parastatals that are loss making by nature, because I foresee a situation where we will have a lot of political appointees,” he said.
He explained that at the time of the liquidation of Zambia Airways when he was serving as Minister of Transport the liquidation of Zambia Airways was not well received but the decision to liquidate the airline was based on research.
“Zambia Airways was a loss making parastatal like most parastatals at the time. It had about 1, 700 employees for four aircrafts and some of the routes were not economically viable. It was perceived to be heavily indebted; its debts exceeded its liquidity situation,” he explained.
Mr. Harrington bluntly stated that he was not comfortable with the idea of government establishing a national airline looking at the operations of the country’s previous national airline.
“We need the PF government to explain to the nation what their policy is, what their economic policies are. Are we going back to the era of parastatals again which was a serious drain on our national resources? The nation needs to be told what the economic policy is,”
He further questioned if the country was slowly moving back to the UNIP era of mismanaged parastatals.
“Although it is well to have a national airline the problem is mismanagement. The establishment of a national airline is just a way of trying to create employment like it was in the UNIP era when you knew a Minister of Transport it was easy to get a job that is why Zambia Airways was over employed. Most of those 1,700 employees were doing local routes,” he said.
Mr. Harrington further retaliated that during Kenneth Kaunda’s rule most of the managers managing parastatals such as UBZ and Zambia Railways did not have the business acumen.
“Most of those appointments under UNIP were political appointees appointed by state house. In his time KK used the one party system of government to appoint and most of those did not have the business acumen. Most of those parastatals were heavily subsidized by the government and a lot of money was pumped into those parastatals to keep people in employment is this what we want to see,” he questioned.
He further questioned how President Sata would suggest the establishment of a national airline having been in government at the time of Zambia Airway’s liquidation and was privy to information.
“I am deeply concerned and worried it will just be a big drain on our national resources. Having been in government the president is fully aware why Zambia Airways was liquated. What has changed now. South African Airways is facing serious liquidity and capitalization problems with our fragile economy how will we sustain the airline,” he said.
He further added that South Africa being one of Africa’s growing economies was facing problems running its airline and wondered how Zambia as a country with a poor economic growth could manage especially with its high fuel costs.
“We have seen South African Airways going under yet South Africa is a very powerful economy which has gold yet they are facing very serious problems. The question is our economy with so many pressing demands like health and education and our jet fuel being very expensive how will we manage it?” he questioned.