• COO shown the door
KIGALI - Following the departure late last year of the former CEO of Rwandair, Ambassador Gerald Zirimwabagabo, it is reported that the airline is currently undergoing a ‘clean-up process’.
Last year, The New Times broke a story of how the national carrier was incurring avoidable financial losses and how it was being rundown by influence peddling and mismanagement of resources.
We also reported how internal wrangles and procurement deals gone wrong were threatening to run down the company, and an accusing finger was being pointed at Capt. Jack Eck, who sources say was hired under unclear circumstances.
Elk was hired as a Chief Operations Officer of the airline.
A few days later, Cabinet appointed John Milenge, who was at the same time the board chairman of the airline, as acting CEO, and he is the man overseeing the ‘complete overhaul’ of the national airline.
Information we have is that Elk, who at one time was the acting CEO, was shown the exit earlier this week, and his daughter who had reportedly been hired under unclear conditions, resigned upon hearing the news of her father’s sacking.
In an interview with The New Times, Milenge said that Elk had indeed been fired over improper conduct.
“He used to harass workers---his behaviour was not good so the board decided to sack him. The daughter also decided to resign when she heard that the father had been relieved of his duties,” Milenge said.
However beyond harassing workers, we can exclusively reveal that Elk has been responsible for causing financial losses to the company in improper procurement deals.
Elk is said to have prevented company workers from wearing new uniforms procured at a cost of US$100,000 (Rwf56.8m) because he considered them ‘ugly and not corporate enough’ and that they should be donated to an orphanage.
However, Milenge said that the uniforms were fine.
“We examined them and found that they had no problem and we returned them to the workers. Today they are wearing them,” Milenge said.
He added that RwandAir has hired lawyers to recover money the company lost to Sun Air after a deal struck between the two airlines went bad.
The Ministry of Defence (MINADEF) had contracted and paid Rwandair to transport soldiers to and from Darfur and the latter sub-contracted Sun Air to conduct the flights.
But after only four flights, the airline simply disappeared yet Rwandair had already paid in advance since it was a wet-lease arrangement.
The national carrier had to refund MINADEF about US$400,000 (approx. Rwf228 million).
“Our lawyers are handling this issue with external lawyers. We are sure these funds will be recovered,” Milenge said.
He revealed that the board was working around the clock to clear all the reported problems in the airline, which include underground scheming, favouritism and illegal procurement deals that had left a section of the workers unhappy.
“We are doing everything to streamline every aspect of the airline, including an institutional audit to ascertain whether there was any financial mismanagement.
“We will need some time to ensure that all these things are put in order, in terms of capacity, operations and business standing, and how the company can progress without any stumbling blocks,” Milenge said in an interview.
He added that Rwandair is looking around for good planes to boost its fleet and operations, but refuted rumours that the airline was incurring heavy losses and that the government was planning to sell its shares as a result.
“Of course like any other new airline, Rwandair experiences some shocks and losses, but it does not mean that it will collapse the next day.
“Airlines incur losses when they are at a young stage, even established airlines incur losses, so this is not something strange with Rwandair which is still young,” Milenge said.
He added that government selling its shares has something to do with its plans to sell all its shares in profit-making public organisations under the privatisation programme, and not because it is incurring losses.
“It is the Ministry of Finance overseeing the privatisation programme, I don’t know much about this issue,” Milenge said.