A difference of opinion emerged in the National Assembly this week over government's subsidy to Air Namibia, with the Minister of Defence Nahas Angula questioning the logic behind continued financial support to Air Namibia, while other parastatals in need of funds are not getting the same level of support.
Minister of Works and Transport, Erkki Nghimtina, jumped to his feet to point out to Angula that it is because of Air Namibia that the country's tourism sector is growing. "Do you know that it is because of Air Namibia that there are so many tourists coming to Namibia? If it were not for Air Namibia our tourism sector would not be growing," said Nghimtina clearly disappointed with Angula's comments during the budget debate on Wednesday.
Angula responded by saying that it is high time Namibia owns its economy and that Air Namibia is serving the purpose of lodge and hotel owners, who are mostly foreigners, because tourists go and stay at foreigners' lodges.
When contacted for further comment yesterday, Angula said although he did realise that his comments did not sit well with his fellow Cabinet minister, he harboured no ill thoughts towards Air Namibia, even though the airline "is a historical liability".
"I was talking about Air Namibia in relation to Epangelo Mining [state-owned mining company]. We Namibians have no capital, expertise or technology to run a mine. Government has resources so it can enter into partnerships. So I was saying it would be better if the resources given to Air Namibia could have been given to Epangelo," he said.
Air Namibia received N$472.2 million for the current financial year, down from N$1 132 million received in the previous financial year. The airline is to receive N$579.8 million for 2015/16, and N$760 million for 2016/17. In contrast Epangelo Mining received N$11 million for the current financial year, as part of the N$5.3 billion granted to the mining ministry over the three-year period to 2016/17 for the development of the Kudu gas power project, rural electrification and support to Epangelo Mining.
"All I am saying is that we should look at companies that are doing well. That is why I also gave the example of MTC, they are one of the profit-making companies," Angula said, also citing Namdeb as another good example of performing parastatals. Namdeb, he says, is doing a reasonable job by contributing to the growth of the country, creating employment, paying dividends and diamond royalties.
"Air Namibia is a historical liability, we found it here when we took over and now it is our baby. All I am saying is that if the money which is given to Air Namibia could have been given to Epangelo Mining that will open a mine very soon, it can enter into partnership with mining companies and have a real stake in the mining sector so that we can have a true Namibian mine. Every time they [Air Namibia] have a bailout plan, but things are just the same. Every day they tell you the same story. We should look at the companies that can create wealth," he said, adding that it is up to those with power to decide what to do with Air Namibia.