Thursday, July 30, 2009

Privatising the Airports

If there was one more needed proof that government is a bad business manager, it is shown in the poor state of the nation’s airports , which from inception, have been under the management the Federal Government .
Oftentimes, users of the nation’s airports—local and international—go through harrowing experiences in coping with the ever dilapidated facilities. From the cooling system through the toilets to even the conveyor belts, there is evidence of decay.
For visitors and even Nigerians returning home from trips abroad, the word is the same. Nigerian airports are outdated. They fall short of global standards. Airports could still be outdated and yet functional, but many Nigerian airports are not. Not even the home-sick Nigerian who arrives the Murtala Mohammed International Airport could ignore the substandard nature of the air-conditioning system and the long wait for his luggage to reach him on an old conveyer belt around which anxious people are crowded.
Neither the funds yearly allocated to the aviation agencies, nor the revenue they generate have been able to turn around the fortunes of the nation’s airports. Government, in all honesty, will admit that apart from its inability to operate the nation’s airports, it lacks the funds to modernise them.
It is against this backdrop and our belief in private sector-led growth that we support the eventual decision of the Federal Government to concession the airports to private operators or privatise them. Indeed, for the sake of human safety and the public relations statement it makes to visitors, a nation’s airports are far too important to be run shoddily.
For a start, the government has concluded plans to concession four of the airports in the country. They include the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, Mallam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano, Port Harcourt Airport, Omagwa and the Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar.
The scheme, if well handled, will indeed, save the airports from further rot and eventual collapse. However, we urge the adoption of best practices and transparency in the concession arrangement. Unlike the problematic concession of some government agencies, this must be made to follow all known due process, as any under-the-table deal will compromise standards and ultimately jeopardize the essence of the privatisation scheme in the first place.
It is gratifying that the Chairman, Board of Directors of FAAN, Chief Ebitimi Banigo himself has declared that with the privatisation scheme, “we are charting a new direction with renewed vigour. That new direction, we believe, should be embraced by all stakeholders.....the new direction engenders great opportunities and possibilities. Opportunities to invest, train and build for our today and future.”
Banigo’s vision of giving the country ‘one of the best Airport groups in the world’ is laudable.
However, these declarations by Banigo, should serve as the operative benchmark that should guide the privatisation exercise, especially as he noted that, “we are focused on positioning all our airports with all stakeholders for long term, sustainable growth and delivering increased and quality service for passengers and all users of our airports”.
The imperativeness of the concession plan appears the only redemptive measure that can rescue the nation’s airports and raise them to match global standards. We believe that a proper handling of the ones now slated for the privatization should make it an inevitable scheme for the other airports in the nation.
All said, the need for the privatization of the airports cannot be over-emphasised, just as the means of doing so is key to its overall success.