Visitors flying into Namibia may in the near future be asked to retrieve their luggage from the aircraft themselves after the Namibia Airports Company told its staff that they would all be retrenched in a move to avoid drowning in a sea of red ink.
The drastic move came after the company’s board apparently decided that all 280 staff members were to be retrenched to allow it to liquidate itself and form another airports company on April 1.
But the company was created by an Act of Parliament and it was not immediately clear how the embattled management intended clearing this particular legal hurdle.
The airports company is a commercial spin-off from the ministry of works and transport’s civil aviation directorate, designed to make the directorate financially self-sufficient.
In particular, questions have been raised about the safety of workers’ pensions, because many have spent nearly their entire career with the directorate.
Workers this week rejected intervention by the Swapo-aligned Namibian Public Workers’ Union and said they would prefer that a non-aligned union negotiate on their behalf.
John Kwedhi, the general secretary of the independent Namibia Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, this week confirmed that the workers had asked his union to intervene in what is widely seen as a political rebuff to the corruption-tinged public workers’ union.
The latter’s management is widely regarded as being complicit in the looting of the Government Institutions Pension Fund in which R660-million was lost in loans made to political cronies of the ruling party.
The airports company is one of the contributors to the fund.
Company staff were also this week told that they would have to pay back overpayments in their salaries. Management has instructed a local legal firm to recover these funds in a desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy, local press reports said.
The airports company was created in 1998 and is responsible for ground operations at Namibia’s main gateway, the Hosea Kutako International Airport.
It also operates smaller airports all over Namibia, including the commercially critical Walvis Bay Airport.
The airports company was plagued by mismanagement from the outset.
A previous financial manager committed suicide in 2004 after he was caught fiddling the books and police were about to arrest him. Last week, the airports company suddenly dismissed its finance and human-resource managers.
Although the company refused to comment, both men were shown the door in a manner that suggested they might have been guilty of serious misconduct.
Although the company was turned around by the efforts of a previous board that largely took over its running from 2004 to 2007, its work was soon undone by new managers appointed in the name of “cadre deployment”, company insiders said.