Why Camair-Co Has Failed To Effectively Take-off

Camair-co MA60 plane arrives Bamenda in its inaugural flight on July 20, 2017

The State-owned Cameroon Airlines Corporation, Camair-Co, is very sick.
Camair-Co has been unable to effectively take-off since its inaugural flight on March 28, 2011.

During its inaugural flight, the corporation was christened “The Star of Cameroon”.
However, this Cameroon star has since become a laughing stock and an ignoble picture of the country, and many Cameroonians are today calling on Government to privatise or shut it down.
Camair-Co is in a serious crisis. Despite the disbursement of state subventions, Camair-Co in less than 10 years of operation today has a staggering debt of over FCFA 115 billion.

Worse still, the company has since its launch been operating on a monthly financial deficit. The frequent change of General Managers and Board Chairs of the corporation by President Biya has not help matters.
In less than 10 years of operation, Camair-Co has had six General Managers and five Board Chairs. Yet, the situation of the company is only getting worse.
On June 22, 2020 the management of Camair-Co sent 371 workers on technical leave under the guise of fighting the Coronavirus pandemic.
But as the General Manager, Louis Georges Njipendi Kuoto, admitted in a communiqué, the decision is also meant to help limit the increasing debts of the company.
At the time that Camair-Co’s workers were sent on technical leave, the company owed workers four months’ salary. The decision by Camair-Co’s management to send workers on technical leave without having cleared the salary arrears, has sparked a protest by staff delegates of the company, supported by syndicates in the commercial airlines sector.

Failure To Respect Set Objectives

The Vision Statement of Camair-Co was: “The airlines of choice for Cameroonians and international travellers, offering safety, reliability and connectivity accompanied by unwavering service quality, competitive pricing and sustained profitability.” Unfortunately, there is no indication that for close to 10 years of operation, Camair-Co is on track to meet its set vision.
Also, at launch the Mission Statement of Camair-Co read: “Our mission is to establish a new generation airline with the highest quality product offering, supported by a high performing organisation excelling in safety, customer service and financial management.” So far, Camair-Co has failed to remain on track.

Government Was Not Prepared

One of the major problems that has made Camair-Co to be unable to effectively take-off since its launch, is that the Biya Government was not ready to launch and operate another airlines company, after the regime ruined the great Cameroon Airlines, CAMAIR, that the former President, Amadou Ahidjo, created, launched and operated in grand style.
In 2006, President Biya signed decree No. 2006/293 of 11 September 2006, to create Camair-Co to replace the sinking CAIMAIR as national carrier.
According to Article 5 of the presidential decree, the initial capital of Camair-Co was to be increased by 51 by a strategic partner selected by an international call for tender. But unfortunately, the canker worm of corruption and mafia in the Biya Government, allegedly led by the then Minister of Economy and Finance, Polycarpe Abah Abah, ruined the first operation that was launched to select a strategic partner for the newly created Camair-Co.
In fact, President Biya was forced to cancel the first operation to select a strategic partner for Camair-Co, following petitions and other serious complaints he received about how the operation was badly conducted.
But no call for tender was launched to select a strategic partner for the newly created Camair-Co. Biya Government instead went ahead to launch Camair-Co without a strategic partner for the airlines.

Few And Old Aircrafts

It is not clear why the Biya Government dropped the initial plan to find a strategic partner for Camair-Co. From all indications, the Government was not prepared to run another national carrier.
Camair-Co was launched without a single new aircraft. The airlines owned only one aircraft which was the 10 years Boeing 767 (The Dja), that it inherited from the defunct CAMAIR.
Government only managed to get two Boeing 737 aircrafts of five and six years old on lease from an American company. This brought to three the number of planes in the fleet of Camair-Co. However, as the General Manager who launched Camair-Co, Alex Van Elk, stated, the Government had promised that new and modern aircrafts would soon be bought. They were to include big planes for long haul flights to the United States and Europe. But five years later, President Biya decided that two small Chinese MA 60 planes, which were initially ordered for the military, be handed to Camair-Co. This brought the number of planes in the fleet of Camair-Co to five.

Boeing Consulting‘s Proposals Validated, But – – –

Meanwhile, Government hired Boeing Consulting to carry out a study on how Camair-Co could be made a viable airlines company.
After carrying out the studies, Boeing Consulting submitted its report which President Biya validated (Cameroon Tribune, Wednesday, July 27, 2016). The validated report was termed, The Plan To Re-launch Camair-Co.
The plan stated that the Government was to acquire nine new aircrafts including a number of big aircrafts for long haul flights, for the airline company.
Camair-Co was to increase its number of destinations to 27, comprised of nine domestic destinations, 16 regional destinations and five intercontinental destinations which were to include Dubai in the Middle East as well as Shanghai in Asia (China). Once more, the dream of seeing Camair-Co stand tall in the commercial airlines sector was rekindled.
But since President Biya validated the plan to re-launch Camair-Co, it has never been implemented. In fact, nothing has been heard about the plan again, raising the question as to why the Government had to spend so much money to hire Boeing Consulting to do a study and make proposal to revive the ailing Camair-Co, when there was no political will to implement the proposals.
The Government has not bought a single new aircraft for Camair-Co. Rather in 2016, the then management of Camair-Co headed by Ernest Dikoum, bought a second-hand Canadian made aircraft, Bombardier Q400.
But it was bought on credit, and so Camair- Co’s debts increased.
Today, Camair-Co has a total of six old planes, with non in a good state. The biggest aircraft in Camair-Co’s fleet remains the Boeing 767 (The Dja), which is almost 20 years old.
The two Boeing 737 aircrafts are 15 years old. These aircrafts have in recent years been spending more time grounded for maintenance work, than flying.

Bad Management

There are many other problems that have been plaguing Camair-Co. Experts in the commercial airlines sector say one of the major problems hindering the progress of Camair-Co is incompetence and bad management.
Whenever a new General Manager is appointed, the then Minister of Transport would in his installation speech refer to him as the right person with the capacity to lead Camair-Co to attain its airlines’ vision and mission. But after a few months in office, a lot of complaints would start coming up from the syndicates and others that the General Manager is either incompetent or is a bad manager.
Bad management by some Camair-Co’s GMs have been seen in a number of aspects, especially the irrational recruitment of workers in excess, thus making the company to lose a lot of money in paying salaries to staff.
Each Cameroonian that is appointed Camair-Co’s GM as is the common malpractice in all State owned companies, recruit his own people who include family members, girlfriends, children or relatives of his friends, people of his tribe or village, and so on. There are also several cases where big men in Yaounde and local authorities send their relatives to the GMs to recruit.

Situation Report

Information on some scandalous cases of workers recruitment at Camair-Co was contained in a ‘Situation Report On Camair-Co’ dated March 30, 2015, and destined for the President of the Republic, done by then Deputy Secretary General at the Presidency, Séraphin Magloire, a copy which The Post procured.
The worst case was by the fourth GM, Jean-Paul Nana Sandjo, who was the second Cameroonian to head the corporation. Fouda stated in his report that when Nana took over in 2014, the company had 500 personnel, and that there were three planes in the airline’s fleet.
He disclosed six months after, Camair-Co’s personnel increased to 720, even though the number of planes in the company’s fleet remained three.
On his part, Nana said he met 570 and not 500 workers at Camair-Co, and so the number of additional workers he recruited was 170 and not 220.
He claimed that he recruited more workers because his management, supported by the Board, had adopted a plan to borrow money from some commercial banks to buy two second-hand planes for Camair-Co.
But by the time Nana was fired on August 22, 2016, no aircraft had been bought.

Company Running On Deficits

Magloire also noted in his report that Camair-Co’s debt rose from FCFA 10 billion as of January 2013 to FCFA 33.2 billion as of December 31, 2014.
He noted that the monthly revenue of the company was only an average of FCFA 2.5 billion instead of the FCFA 6 billion previewed, whereas the monthly operational cost of the company was FCFA 4 billion. Thus Camair-Co then was running at a monthly deficit of FCFA 1.5 billion.
The Situation Report on Camair-Co followed some reports that were written by a Board Member of Camair-Co, Marcel René Doung, to the President of the Republic, proposing that Camair-Co should be privatised.
Doung, a senior official in the Ministry of Transport, was representing the Ministry in Camair-Co’s Board.
Magloire, who examined Doung’s correspondences and made a situation report on Camair-Co, in his conclusion, also proposed that Camair-Co be privatised.
He asserted that the company was poorly managed and had become a drain pipe of the State’s financial resources.
Fouda reminded the Head of State of Article 5 of the presidential decree that created Camair-Co, which stated that the Government would get a strategic partner for the airline. But unfortunately, President Biya did not follow the advice to privatise Camair-Co, and the problems of the national carrier continue to mount.

High Salaries For GMs

It is ironical that while Camair-Co has been suffering from monthly deficits over the years, the different General Managers appointed to head the company have always been placed on big salaries.
The salaries of Alex Van Elk and Boertien Matthijs Johanness (expatriates), who were the first two General Managers of Camair-Co, were never known. But the monthly salary of the third and fourth General Managers of Camair-Co, Mboto Edimo and Jean-Paul Nana Sandjo (Cameroonians), was FCFA 10 million.
Ernest Dikopum, the fifth General Manager of Camair-Co and third Cameroonian to occupy the post, insisted on FCFA 15 million. The Board of Directors offered him FCFA 13 million.
The then Board Chair, Mefiro Oumarou, attributed the increase to the fact that Dikoum was taken from EMIRATES Airways, where he was Branch Manager of the company in Senegal.

Yaounde Mafia And The Way Out

The Post has garnered that one major problem that has helped to frustrate good management and instead promote bad management at Camair-Co, is the demand for money from the management of the airline company by some big men in Yaounde, or better still by the Yaounde Mafia.
When a General Manager refuses to divert part of the State subvention or the company’s fund to the big men, the mafia frustrates him and causes his dismissal.
Meanwhile, there is no question that the attempt by the Biya regime to operate Camair-Co after killing CAMAIR, has failed woefully. Observers will definitely agree that the only way out for the national carrier to be able to effectively take-off is privatisation in the form of public-private partnership.
If not, it should simply be shut down as a failure. It should be noted that Camair-Co is a State-owned company, and so when the company cannot pay its debts, the responsibility for settling the debts fall on the State.
What is very likely to happen is that by the end of the day, the mounting debts of Camair-Co will fall on the State, and by implication, the tax payers.

By Joe Dinga Pefok

Source: The Post