“A bankruptcy that doesn’t dare speak its name”. Cherubin Okende used the strongest possible terms to describe Congo Airways’ situation to the Council of Ministers on September 9.
While DRC president Félix Tshisekedi warned on 26 August that the company might have to cease its flights for lack of operational aircraft, his transport minister in his report pointed to the “lack of coherence” and “the paradoxes” of the restructuring plan presented by the company’s CEO Pascal Kasongo Mwema. On 16 August, the latter had requested government aid of more than $92.7 million “in the very short term”: within 60 days.
The money is to be used to maintain the company’s aircraft, buy seven more second-hand planes and build up working capital. In addition, the strategic fuel stock subsidy would be doubled (from the current $750,000) and the penalties on the company’s tax debt, estimated by Mwema at $50 million, would be waived.
In his six-point presentation, Okende denounced the “chronic weaknesses” of a company whose management he called “neither collegial nor transparent”. He criticised in turn “the inadequacy of the company’s economic model” with the realities of the sector and the country, its “lack of orthodoxy in human resources” … – as well as the “external factors”, including Covid-19 and the government’s demand for lower ticket prices. He said this led to “recurrent and significant losses”, to the “dilapidation of the production facilities”, and to the “poor quality of services offered”.
To “avoid an untimely interruption of air service activities on the national territory”, the minister nevertheless proposed that the government adopt “short-term measures” to support the company. This involves releasing a total amount of just over $50 million: $15.7 million to maintain and redeploy the four aircraft owned by Congo Airways, $22.6 million to pay the balance of a new Embraer 190 still blocked in Brazil due to lack of payment, and $12.5 million for the establishment of a working capital fund.
For Okende, mentioning the Congo Airways file is also an opportunity to remind Tshisekedi of his project to launch a new company, Air Congo, in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. A project that is “on hold today for reasons that are difficult to reasonably support in view of the situation,” he said. “More than seven months after the approval of this project by the Council of Ministers, I humbly believe that it is time to make a definitive decision on this matter”.
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