… Samson tells pilots association president
Air Namibia Acting Managing Director Mandi Samson blasted the Namibia Airline Pilots Association president Manuel Prenzlow after he questioned her about several matters including a contingency plan should the planes get grounded in Europe.
Prenzlow wrote to Samson on two occasions – on 7 February 2019 to which they did not get a response and then again on 18 February 2019 to which she responded the following day – 19 February.
The Patriot has written several articles concerning the parastatal’s decision to appoint Gupta Advocate Rafik Bhana to defend them in an arbitration matter over the airline’s inflight magazine – Flamingo, the freezing of European accounts over a decade old N$400 million dollar judgement debt, as well as the consequences that will follow the possible grounding aircraft over this same debt and the company being labelled insolvent. Prenzlow, with reference to various media reports, including that from international media, questioned Samson on how she is handling these matters.
The Pilots Association’s queries were met with a response by Samson stating: “It is worth noting, Mr Prenzlow, that I am not your peer in determining how to run the airline on a commercial basis,” Samson wrote.
She was responding to among others, the question as to whether any contingency plans have been put in place “to accommodate passengers and crew in the event of aircraft being grounded” and a disclosure of the total amount of legal fees spent on the legal actions involving the inflight magazine, Flamingo and the multi-million dollar judgement debt in favour of the European liquidated company – Challenge Air.
“Is it not time for management and the new Board of Directors to consider a commercial approach, and put an immediate stop to this flagrant waste of company resources and placing Air Namibia at further, avoidable risk – both reputational and financially,” the association’s president asked Samson.
Prenzlow in his first letter said that his decision to write to Samson came after the association “with acute shock” learned about the Challenge Air developments in the press and that millions of Namibian Dollars was being attached from the airline’s accounts on an ongoing basis. The president also raised concern that grounding of the Frankfurt – Windhoek route fleet has become a real possibility. The Patriot has it on good authority that European flights in and out of Frankfurt this weekend will be unable to take off due to no funds being available for fuel.
Prenzlow further questioned Samson over the airline’s decision to appoint the Gupta’s lawyer to represent them in one of the legal actions.
“…we have learned that Air Namibia has employed the South African senior advocate who represented the Guptas in person, and also their companies, as well as senior ANC ministers attempting to block a South African state capture report, to head the arbitration against a service provider providing the in-flight magazine to Air Namibia,” Prenzlow wrote.
He further highlighted that the national airline stands to lose millions whether they lose or win the arbitration.
“How can management claim to run a commercial operation, with profit motive, if the losing millions of taxpayers and stakeholders’ money (even in the election year) is a foregone conclusion? Who authorized this waste? How can this ever be explained – whilst operational staff are continuously told of the financial constraints experienced by Air Namibia,” the association head further asked.
Making reference to a legal action defeats the airline has suffered recently, Prenzlow asked whether Air Namibia under Samson’s leadership can “afford another public relations defeat and embarrassment”.
“For the past two years, Air Namibia has been in the news for all the wrong reasons – the negative press we receive almost weekly in the mainstream media, and also on social media, is killing this company, the brand and it is weakening our position against all competing airlines on an ongoing basis – even in an election year”.
Again this week Prenzlow reminded Samson of their first letter and their growing concern over the current affairs at the airline and comments by the Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein who called the airline insolvent and being in its current position due to “poor, poor management”.
“Is management at all concerned about how shockingly Namibia as a destination – and Air Namibia – is portrayed to the international community via the mainstream press? Is this fulfilling the stakeholders mandate and vision,” he asked in his second letter. The president further wrote that it is “astonishing to further note that managerial staff, who we have alerted you, may have a personal vested interested in some of the mind-bogglingly expensive litigation, are the chosen ones to address the media, and defend Air Namibia”.
He was referring to allegations that public relations head at the airline, Paul Nakawa, has vested interests in the contract for the in-flight magazine.
The association head in the second letter asked whether there are enough finances to pay the airline’s running expenses in Europe such as air navigation services, landing fees, parking fees, catering, fuel, maintenance, salaries, rent, commissions, hotels whilst the airline’s banking accounts and income is attached by creditors. “Ms Samson, we have asked for a contingency plan and SOP should our aircraft be grounded in the EU or anywhere else. Have you prepared anything, or is it expected of the flight crews to handle the situation on own initiative should the need arise,” the president questioned.
Samson in her response told the association head that she noted the “discourteous manner” in which he addressed her office had not changed.
She told the pilot that the Challenge Air matter came about before she joined the airline and that she does not know why the previous administration did not resolve it and that she took note of the matter upon joining the parastatal and has been addressing it since.
“I’m sure you encountered matters in your office, and in your capacity, as NAPA president which you are dealing with currently.”
Responding to the question on whether there is a contingency plan to deal with the possible consequences of the Challenge Air judgement debt, Samson said that “contingency plans do exist to cater for a situation in which there might be grounding of the aircraft”. She warned the association head to “not use the existing situation to influence employees not to perform their duties”.
As for the employment of the ‘Gupta lawyer’, the acting boss said that Prenzlow is “obviously not aware of the other Namibian institutions” that the ‘Gupta lawyer’ assisted in the Namibian economy.
She also said that Prenzlow’s statement that the airline may lose millions whether they win or lose in arbitration, is factually incorrect and that the president may have made that statement because he “may not be conversant with the manner in which arbitration works. It was explained at the staff meeting, that you attended, that the ongoing arbitration was due to due to dubious activities which the airline, in all fairness, could not be seen as having entertained or overlooked,” Samson said adding that she is almost certain Prenzlow would have written another letter accusing the airline of inaction if it did not challenge the in-flight magazine agreement which she termed suspicious.
She refused the association head’s request on how much money has been spent on the arbitration over the in-flight magazine thus-far. The Patriot reported a few weeks ago that Bhana, sources said, is coming at a cost of N$54,000 a day and is accompanied by a junior advocate who is being paid two thirds of his fee which equates to N$36,000.
Reminding the pilot that that she is not his peer, Samson added that she remains the Acting Managing Director of the airline and Prenzlow an employee.
She further said that she noted his concerns with respect to Schlettwein calling the airline insolvent and being poorly managed. She told the president that she will not express herself on statements made by “political heads in their capacity as political heads.”
Addressing the statement that they have alerted her office about possible personal vested interest in the in-flight magazine, Samson denied having any such knowledge and told the president that it is extremely dangerous for him to make accusations that managerial staff may have vested interest in litigation without substantiating evidence.
“Finally, and in conclusion, kindly forward any further correspondence from your union through the Industrial Relations office as per industrial relations norm. Should the need arise, same will be escalated to my office” Samson ended her communication.