CBN, foreign airlines bicker over repatriation of funds

*Foreign airlines.

*Foreign airlines.

*Stakeholders bemoan lopsided BASAs that favour foreign airline

30 March 2016, Abuja — As the National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE, which has become the ‘mouthpiece’ of the foreign airlines operating in Nigeria, continues to raise the alarm over a plan to sack 2,000 Nigerians working for the foreign airlines, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has said its policies have nothing to do with the foreign airlines as it has been selling dollars to carriers through their banks.

Foreign airlines in Nigeria have been crying foul over their inability to repatriate their earnings from Nigeria to their home countries following series of forex restriction policies by the CBN.

But the apex bank has debunked the claim and explained that part of the strategy it has adopted has been to identify key sectors and industries that will drive growth and curtail excessive forex demand, adding that airlines have been buying through their banks at the interbank rate.

“I am sure if you go through the published statements of sale by the banks you will find this. What is not possible now however is for CBN to meet just any demand by some of these airlines,” said an official of the CBN who does not want his name in print.

However, a member of the staff of one of the foreign airlines disclosed yesterday that the CBN does not consider aviation as one of the key sectors and, therefore, is not providing enough forex for the airlines, especially the foreign airlines.

The foreign airline employee, who pleaded anonymity, pointed out that foreign airlines are now changing operational strategies in order to remain in business in Nigeria. But this, he said, has been misinterpreted as increment in air fares by foreign airlines.

“You may have heard that they said foreign airlines increased fares, but that is not true. What the airlines are now doing is that they have suspended all promo prices and cut service on the economy segment, giving out mostly business class and first class services in order to cope with current operational cost. The airlines did not increase fares,” the source said.

NUATE had written to the federal government, urging it to intervene in a planned sack of 2,000 workers by foreign airlines due their inability to repatriate their earnings and other operational difficulties.

“Following concerns raised recently by leaders of these workers and other stakeholders, and in appreciation of the good intent of the government’s fiscal policy, we humbly make this clarion call for your intervention to grant foreign airlines concession to repatriate their proceeds to their home countries,” NUATE said in the letter addressed to the minister of state for Transportation (Aviation), Senator Hadi Sirika.

Meanwhile, some stakeholders have come hard on the foreign airlines, urging the federal government to review the various Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) it currently has with countries of the airlines’ origin.

An aviation industry stakeholder, Captain John Ojikutu, has contended that Nigeria has had no benefits from the BASAs, leaving only the foreign airlines to enjoy the benefits of the agreements.

“You should, therefore, ask these airlines and government officials in the ministry what economic benefits we really derive from the BASAs which we have with the home countries of these airlines. They sell tickets worth nearly $10 billion annually and repatriate all to their countries. This is what l will refer to in my aviation memo later in the year as the ‘Conspiracy of Exploitation between the Airlines and Government Officials,'” he said.

The immediate past president of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Alhaji Aminu Agoha, has also lamented the astronomical cost of air tickets by foreign airlines.

He said a look at the advertised airfares of these airlines shows a huge hike in flight tickets by almost 100 per cent, describing it as curious despite easy access to foreign exchange made available to them.

“Is it not curious to note that some of them have their business class fares as low as about N600,000 while others put theirs at close to N2 million. Can you imagine that?

“We all need to understand that there’s no way we will collect all our reserves to satisfy just a few businesses while other ones suffer. I don’t know where they got the number of 2,000 workers they are parodying but this threat to sack workers is very unfair and this seeming blackmail is not going to print dollars overnight,” he said.

Whilst the foreign airlines have not themselves made any statement on the matter, especially with regard to the number of workers in their employ, a top official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has explained that the foreign airlines have the capacity to employ up to 2,000 workers.

“These airlines do shifts and they have workers in all the international airports, as well as in their various offices, for those of them that have a permanent office in Nigeria. I think they can have up to 2,000 workers,” said FAAN’s general manager for corporate communications, Mr. Yakubu Dati.

The foreign airlines had claimed that the difficulty in repatriating their huge money out of the country totalling over $1 billion could force them to sack their workers.

The NANTA chief, Agoha, however, noted that the alarming situation needs an urgent attention, adding that the travel industry is fast losing revenue while travel agencies are closing shops.

He added that job losses in the travel sector would further increase the number of unemployment figure in the country with the added dangers that come with unemployment.

He called on the federal government to urgently look into this situation with a view to rectifying it.

He stated that, already, as a result of that, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airline are taking desperate measures by removing lower fares from their display and offering same to travel agencies that are able to remit funds to them in United States dollars.

*Leadership

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