Biman must not lose money but we must not also lose face for Biman03 January 2016 Editorial Desk
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a case against Deputy General Manager of Biman Bangladesh Airlines Emdad Hossain for allegedly accumulating illegal wealth on December 20. According to the first information report (FIR), Emdad Hossain amassed wealth worth Tk4.58 crore illegally and he tried to conceal that during the ACC's probe. He even transferred a huge amount of money to bank accounts of his wife, daughter, relatives and his employees. The case was filed under the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2012. On November 12, 2014, Emdad was arrested for his alleged involvement in gold smuggling and dodging government duty.
This incident is an aftermath of the events which occurred in November 2014 when police in Bangladesh arrested three senior officials of the state-owned airline, Biman, for their alleged involvement in gold smuggling in November 2014. Those being held were in charge of preparing working rotas for junior officials. They were accused of placing members of the smuggling syndicate on duty at specific times so that gold could be transported via a safe route. Two officials whose names came up in the confessional statements are very influential in the national carrier for their close relations with the Biman Chairman. The two controlled recruitment of pilots, promotions and even lease of aircraft in exchange for huge commission. The duo also had close relations with Biman Chairman's "godson" and influential Biman contractor Mahmudul Haque Palash, who is among the five arrestees although the Chairman denied having any direct links with them.
Incidents of mismanagement and corruption in Biman are nothing new. As early as 2004, Pilots of Biman's F28 aircraft refused to fly the aging F 28 planes to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu citing frequent technical breakdown in icy conditions during flight over the mountainous region. The United Nations asked its staff not to fly Biman Bangladesh Airlines for lack of safety and security arrangements and flight delays, landing another blow to the reputation of the National Flag carrier, as recently as 2009. The UN Division for Security Services issued a directive in 2007 deeming Biman too risky for its staff. Any UN employee wishing to fly Biman would have to do so at their own risk, said several UN officials in Dhaka and New York at that time.
In 2014 all six Boeing 777s of Biman remained under-utilised for lack of long-haul flights and pilots, causing the National Flag carrier to lose crores of taka every year. The Biman Board's high-handed attitude and its lack of knowledge of commercial airlines were the main reasons behind the non-implementation of a plan to maximize revenue. There were also allegations that some corrupt Biman officials, in their own interest, had convinced the top management not to follow the plan. Cashing in on the shortage of pilots, the vested group apparently indulged in corruption in appointments, transfers and retirement of pilots.
Even after the appointment of its first foreign CEO Kevin Steele the airline failed to make profits - although it substantially cut its losses from over 600 crore to around 200 crore in the year the CEO was in office. However it is set to make profits this year of around Tk 245 crore. The rate of timely departure, which was 20-25 percent in 2012, improved to 65-70 percent at present, according to the airline as Steele had given measurable targets to all the staff members.
All of these reasons remain behind the fact that Biman was rated as the second worst airline of the world in 2015 by a leading web based airline and airport review platform. The reasons for the performance are well-known - but the problem contains its own solutions. Appoint effective and responsible CEOs who can do the job and reduce mismanagement by eliminating the officials who are corrupt and maintain links with others. This should not be a difficult problem - it has worked in the past and there is no reason for it to not work now. Biman can and must change for the better - its reputation depends on it.
It must be understood that Biman is a National Flag carrier - it represents the nation. As such its services including quality of food and how it is served must be a matter of serious concern. Our ceramic products are of international standards. Yet the food is served on low quality plates and cups. The food served is not of airlines quality. Biman has to be modern and quality oriented. This does not cost much, a tiny amount compared to the extent of corruption going on inside Biman. It is a shame. To improve the situation first we have to remove the corrupt and below standard officials. Thieves are not expected to be people of good tastes running good airlines. It is important to project Biman's high standard for our national pride. Because Biman has Bangladeshi nationals as captive passengers, it must not neglect the best it can offer. Biman must not lose money but we must also not lose face for Biman.