The Air Mauritius Saga


At a time when numerous social difficulties, including the rising cost of living, the proliferation of the drug scourge, the ineffectuality of authorities to safeguard our streets, or the culture of opacity surrounding key decisions, demand our attention, we cannot draw away from the goings-on at our national carrier, Air Mauritius.

No week has gone by without another sad story of passenger flight delays or cancellations due, it seems, to a combination of factors such as proper maintenance, unavailability of engine spares, lack of qualified personnel, and uncertain quality of substitute leased aircraft to compensate for newish planes the company disposed of as scrap. Inevitably, irate customers and their families, missed connections or appointments, disappointed or angry tourists have hogged headlines almost since the end of the pandemic two years ago.

Readers will recall the sequence of events leading us to 2014. Prior to the pandemic, the finances of the national carrier we were all proud of had already nosedived so perilously that it had to be brought into the ward of voluntary receivership. The plane fleet was dismantled and several sold under the supervision of the ruling regime’s best high-flier, Sattar Hajee Abdoula. Pilots, stewards, and ground personnel were sacked to streamline payroll, many having to forego their retirement pensions.

The authorities injected more than Rs 10 billion of public funds into the company while it regrouped Air Mauritius and a dozen separate airport entities under one fully owned government mega umbrella, Airport Holdings Ltd, although we understand that their various Boards and structures were left in place for operational matters. Appointed or promoted newbies, reportedly close to the higher political strata, many with little experience or knowledge of their ambit and responsibilities, were brought in when tourism and travel rebounded post-pandemic. Omertà remained the Pied Piper’s tune as, despite the billions of injected public funds, no questions could be asked or answered in the National Assembly. The name and reputation of the company, and by extension, the country, were taking a battering.

Matters took a turn for the worse when last year’s recruited CEO of Air Mauritius, praised as the right man to steer us out of the mess, had to be suspended or dismissed after a few months of what must have been a jocular heady life at the top with allegedly cosy relations with some suppliers. Whether this was due to poor due diligence, incompetent management of the recruitment process, or simply the criss-crossing of wires in the new management maze between MK and Airport Holdings Ltd, the credibility gap was widening, approaching a yawning ravine.

With an unflappable and unshaken belief in their acumen, the upper echelons found themselves selecting another CEO who, this time, had no previous experience in carrier, flight, or ground operations — a fact perhaps seen as a refreshing virtue! He, too, now finds himself like the proverbial kangaroo caught in the glare of headlights, as details of his vacation trip to South Africa, flying first class, emerged this week and adding to public scepticism. As the PR machinery works to quell controversies, unanswered questions linger.

Should we just shrug it off as another bout of jolly but notoriously incompetent high-fliers running the show while hundreds of ordinary personnel face continued wrath at the frontlines? These questions remain unanswered, leaving a sense of unease in the public consciousness.

In the USA, Democrats and Liberals ask whether every shocking outcry of past President Trump should be normalized when right-wing MAGA cult followers dismiss every ghastly occurrence as “oh, it’s just more of Trumpian style and rhetoric? A contrario, “Indignez-vous” was the clarion cry of philosopher Stephane Hessel around 2010 calling, in his best-seller, on youth to refuse injustices and stand or march pacifically for noble causes and ideals.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 May 2024

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