Last time I dared take on our ailing airline, there was a lot of commotion and a few readers angrily asked if I didn’t see anything good in Air Mauritius.
I do! In fact, I must be one of the few people who – given a choice – opt for Air Mauritius. The seats are cramped, the entertainment is left to the mercy of your own sense of humour, the food is average and the chances are you are paying more for this treat. Still, I like flying MK. I find the care and slightly timid smiles of the crew really genuine and I feel the pain and frustration behind the kind looks of the stewards, hostesses and even pilots. The whole sad story of what has become of Air Mauritius can be read just by interacting with the crew. The story of a management that has no clue about how to manage, clinging to and abusing its newly acquired and undeserved privileges and dilapidating public funds, having no consideration for its staff and driving the airline to the ground.
The image of an incompetent management was highlighted this week by the minister of tourism himself. Like his former colleague, Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, who deplored the rate of growth before resigning, Anil Gayan came out of his silence to criticise the performance of Air Mauritius: “I am really worried about the way Air Mauritius is managed… One should not forget that the problems of Air Mauritius have a direct impact on tourism. When it [Air Mauritius] decides not to fly its planes because it is cheaper to keep them grounded, for me, it is a serious problem. This approach does not make economic sense. Air Mauritius has three flights to England, British Airways five. British Airways fills its planes. How come Air Mauritius is operating at only 40-50% capacity on this route? There are 250,000 Mauritians in England and an equal number in France. Only with weddings, funerals and holidays, we can fill the seats… We would like to protect Air Mauritius but it has to play the game as it did in the past… Ethiopian Airlines is interested in offering one flight a day, Etihad five a week, Emirates three flights a day and Turkish Airlines seven flights a week instead of five. There is potential… Air Mauritius should be able to exploit it as it did in the past…”*
You will not have failed to notice the use of the word, “problem” and the repetition of “the past” when, according to the very minister, things were running efficiently. Let me add this: do you remember the so-called Air Corridor – announced in pomp and ceremony by the then-prime minister no less? We had warned that it was a gimmick that would cost us money and bring nothing in return. Well, here’s the evaluation of the tourism minister himself nearly four years and so many wasted bucks later, “When you tell him [the businessman – Ed] that we have one flight a week from Beijing to Mauritius, he won’t come!” How much money was wasted before you realised what thousands of Mauritians knew well before, including the businessmen who occupied the front seats during the announcement and heartily applauded the new development, while they equally heartily laughed at it privately?
Now, instead of finding a real solution to a problem that even their own minister is saying is “serious”, Air Mauritius and the government go into this very dastardly ‘Ponzi’ scheme of undressing Peter to dress Paul: getting Airports of Mauritius to put money into Air Mauritius through a share swap at the Mauritius Duty Free Paradise just to make disastrous figures look acceptable. (Read our cover story this week)
Now, if your local daycare was operating this way, you’d move your children at once. But we are not talking about a crèche and a few nannies. We are talking about a government and its kitchen policy whose consequences even its own minister is now implicitly denouncing. The life lesson is that you can bestow all sorts of titles on your close friends and relatives and pay them all sorts of salaries. What you can’t do is breathe into them the ability to manage. Whatever their narcissistic sense of entitlement is.
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*Interview in Business Mag.