On the re-opening of SLPP Office … “We would never encourage violence” John Benjamin...


The airline industry would seem to me as one of the least regulated or least monitored industry sector by their supervising Ministry, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to ensure that Sierra Leoneans get value for money in terms of costs and quality services. This sector appears to be in a world of its own, occasionally treating clients (especially us Sierra Leoneans) so disrespectfully as if by our patronages, it is they who are doing us a favour.  For years now there is hardly any noticeable improvement in their tickets costs or service quality, they amend fares upwards without justifications or explanations and hardly do we hear of promotional holiday perks at concessionary rates being offered by any local airline agency as it obtains in many other countries,.
So for example year in year out  irrespective of whether it is peak or low season  Economy Class excursion air fares for between London and any of our sub-regional Anglophone West African neighbours have always been a third cheaper cost-wise, than it is for Freetown/London/Freetown. And it has been so for decades. It isn’t that our regulators in the relevant governance sectors -Tourism; Trade; Transport past and present - are not aware of such glaring irregularities; it’s just that they are trained to look more after their personal and family interests than that of the general citizenry they were appointed to serve and or represent.
A number of reasons have been advanced by pundits for such derelictions to duty call to citizens’ welfare, especially in making sure that the cost of air fares between the sub-region and the UK is standardized, but chief among which are the “freebies” purportedly accompanying their positions to wit: Free return ticks; free lunches; free periodic kick backs - all calculated to dissuade them (MDAs) from rigidly monitoring and or enforcing compliance to within the various governance parameters.
In fact I can vividly recall a TV advert showing the entire Board members of the now defunct Sierra National Airlines (SNA) and a former Chairman of the Committee of Management of the Freetown City Council gleefully enjoying a maiden flight to celebrate actualization of a trade pact between the SNA and either Aer-Lingus or Jordanian Airlines.  A dependence on such freebies can and has in fact had detrimental effects to the nation, as apart from betraying the confidence of the Presidents (past and present) who appointed them in the first place, a number of Para-statals have been forced to prematurely close shop, leaving once productive and dedicated employees (from Elder Dempster Lines, through the Sierra Leone Daily Mail to the Sierra National Airlines (SNA) to name just a few), permanently redundant and some still awaiting payments of their terminal benefits.
A school of thought is attributing this seeming sustained disrespect for Sierra Leoneans by the local airlines operators to failures by successive governments to play pro-active leadership roles at the time of initiating and concluding the respective binding agreements between us and them.  In the sub-region (particularly The Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria) where the citizens’ interests are prioritized, every effort is made to ensure they enjoy quality customer services as well as affordable airfares at all times.  To them (unlike us here) travelling overseas is a necessity (not a luxury) that can enable their citizens to expand their personal and business horizons and to also possibly transform themselves through various business opportunities into a state of sustained economic independence. So their regulators ensure that at every step of the way, every aspect in any bilateral arrangement between a foreign air carrier and their governments is symbiotic for their citizens’ benefits. Here are a few examples of disparities wherein Sierra Leoneans have continued to be short-changed and or out rightly disrespected-:
1. When UK air carriers began fumigating cabins in Lagos before takeoffs (purportedly in compliance with UK Health Regulations), the Nigerians retaliated by insisting that all UK flights bound for Nigeria be equally so fumigated. It is over ten years since that practice was introduced here, but it would appear we either have no “Health Regulations” to comply with, or with our innate inferiority complex for anything Caucasian, we believe that everything entering Sierra Leone from England is “germ-free”. Otherwise I wait the day we will have the fortitude to request the British to do the same for all in bound Freetown flights from London.
2. Within two years of their operations in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, every foreign air carrier must ensure that adequate training is provided to locals to facilitate a reciprocal staff exchange (whether as cabin crew or ground staff) at their embarkation points. So you’ll find Kenyans, Nigerians and Ghanaians working alongside their counterparts in the UK, France, USA, Kenya and elsewhere. Not so for us here (anymore). Foreigners dominate every aspect of the bargain  except of course to clean aircraft cabins. We fail to tackle the employment opportunities inherent in these bi-lateral arrangements fairly and squarely ab-initio, yet we continue to grumble about high youth unemployment. Why things should still be allowed to continue this way beats my imagination.
3. Whereas the cost of a one-week maiden promotional excursion London/Freetown/London Gambia Bird trip (inclusive of Visa upon arrival) was pegged at GBP100, Sierra Leoneans were charged US$500 for the converse of that same promotion (Freetown/London/Freetown) by the same air carrier. Many Sierra Leoneans who attempted to take advantage of that trip were denied UK Entry Clearances, because of the usual suspicion that they might not return. To the British the work of the High Commission is distinct from, cannot be influenced by the operations of any British Public Corporation. To us, beyond granting them Visa on arrival and wishing them an “enjoyable stay”, no further questions were asked.
Over time, even new players like Air-Maroc have not only sensed our business vulnerabilities, but would appear to have also joined in the fray of exploiters as was climaxed by the utterly disrespectful way and manner in which they treated our compatriots visiting from the Diaspora last December. Many could not access their luggage up to a week after arrival, and it took more than that whole week before the (Moroccan) Station Manager managed to proffer some explanations of sorts. Of sorts, because the chap couldn’t even manage to communicate effectively in English. In the UK, they recently made it obligatory for one to be able to communicate effectively in English before one could be recruited to work there at any level.
By: Winstanley.R.Bankole. Johnson
Friday February 03, 2017

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