Biman needs to be out of bureaucrats' grip, get commercial character

By Raquib Siddiqi 17 Jul, 2017 | 488 Views | 0 Comments
DHAKA : The world of commercial aviation has under gone drastic change. But, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited (Biman)_ our national flag carrier_ being under prolonged bureaucratic control lost its commercial character and got its vitality crippled.

Biman is over four and a half decades old and during all these years, the management of the airline remained almost fully under bureaucratic control and management, led by mostly in-service civil and military officers with no commercial background.

The result has been the dominance of amateurism in the spheres where requirement of professionalism was great. Even the management has hardly any freedom on recruitment, promotion and posting.

Latest action

Recently, Biman has got a new and additional authority in the form of a Task Force. In a notification on February 2, 2017, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism (MoCAT), announced the formation of the Task Force to "closely supervise all the operation of Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited".

Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism is the convener of the five-member Task Force. Other members are_ representative of Customs House, Dhaka; representative of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangla-desh; representative of Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Senior Assistant Secretary (Biman) of MoCAT. The last named would be member-secretary of the Task Force. The committee will be able to co-opt members if needed.

The Task Force is responsible to do the following: (1) Supervise and oversee to ensure matters relating top onetime implementation of Annual job performance agreement (APA); (2) Supervise and oversee up-gradation of standard of passenger service and faster execution of luggage and cargo handling; (3) Supervise and oversee implementation of administrative and security related reform; (4) Turn Biman into a profitable company and supervise and oversee activities concerning expansion of fleet and route; (5) Supervise and oversee Biman's ticket sals and ensure accountability and (6) Others.

To regain control

The formation of Task Force and its assigned job is seen by the industry as an exercise to regain control over the affairs of administration of Biman by the ministry.

The MoCAT, which enjoyed and exercised undisputed authority over the affairs of Biman since its formation in January 1972, lost it when Biman was turned into a Public Limited Company (PLC) in 2007. Board of Directors replaced MoCAT in managing the airline.

MoCAT never accepted its authority less role and continued to complain about the situation with demand for authority. During this period MoCAT used to summon top executives of Biman to the ministry-almost unnecessarily.

The history

A casual look at the Board of Directors of Biman and its top executives between 1972 and 2007 will show the extent of bureaucratic control that the national flag carrier endured. This highly commercial entity never got professional leadership or management and run commercially.

Since the formation of Biman in 1972, MoCAT constituted Biman's Boards with persons from different ministries and appointed Chief Executive Officers_ from civil and military bureaucrats.

New board, old setup

The authority of MoCAT in the management of the national flag carrier diminished when Biman was turned into Public Limited Company as the Board of Directors gained full management authority under the changed law.

The importance of the board increased many fold, but quality remained unchanged compared to the ministry composed and controlled board.

A look at the composition of the Board of Directors following turning Biman into PLC in 2007 will reveal that bureaucrats continue to reign supreme over professionals. Airline professionals or business people found no place in the management of Biman.

Except the first board, constituted during the rule of immediate past caretaker government, the other that followed including the current one is no different from the boards before Biman was made a PLC.

The first Board of Directors following turning Biman into a PLC was formed mostly with professionals with business background. The board took a number of initiatives to make Biman an efficient, dynamic and profitable airline. The board ordered a fleet of 10 new aircraft directly from the manufacturers, made effort to find strategic partner, identity renewal and decided to induct new blood.

But the board got changed drastically after political government took over in 2008 and except the new fleet, all other measures were abandoned to the detriment of the greater interest of the national flag carrier.

The changed Board of Directors was headed as chairman, by Air Marshal (retd) Jamal Uddin Ahmed, a former chief of Bangladesh Air Force.

On January 12, 2017 Biman got a new Board of Directors with new Chairman. This is the third board since Biman was made public limited company in 2007.

Another former Air Force Chief Air Marshal Muhammad Enamul Bari (Retd) replaced Air Marshal Jamal Uddin Ahmed (retd) who was at the helm of Biman for the last seven years.

The new board has 12 members. The number of members the board of directors rose to 12 from 10 because of inclusion of two people from trade bodies as directors.

Other members are : Senior Secretary, Finance Division, Ministry of Finance, Director; Senior Secretary, Prime Minister's Office; Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism-Director; Md. Nazrul Islam Khan, former Secretary- Director; Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operation and Training)_ Director; Engineer-in-Chief, Bangladesh Army - Director; Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh_ Director; Tapos Kumar Roy, former Additional Secretary_ Director and Md. Siddiqur Rahman, President BGMEA - Director; Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam, Lawyer, Bangladesh Supreme Court - Director; Noor-e-Khoda Abdul Mobin, FCA, Managing Director, Emerging; and Credit Rating Ltd - Director and Managing Director and CEO, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited - Director.

Outsider Chief Executives

Similar to boards of Biman-past and present_ dominance of civil and military bureaucrats can be found in the selection of the position of Chief Executive Officer.

The first two Biman chiefs-Captain Nasir Haider and Captain M Rahman-were pilots and designated as administrator. But their stay was brief. The first one was two weeks and the second one for about eight months.

Air Commodore AK Khanda-ker was the third and last administrator and he served for about 10 months till July 27, 1073.

Mosleh Uddin Ahmed from civil service replaced Air Commodore Khandaker, but not as administrator, as Chairman. Two other civil service men_ Hadayet Ahmed and M. Khurshid Anwar followed him as chairman of Biman.

With the formation of corporation in 1977, the designation of Biman's Executive Chief was changed to Managing Director and MK Anwar became the first managing Director of Biman.

He served Biman as MD for only two months and was replaced by Azim Uddin Ahmed_ a career airline executive-- the first and the only Bangladeshi airline executive ever to head Biman. But unfortunately his stay at the top lasted only three days-between August 22, 1977 and August 25,1977.

This is really pathetic. Biman inherited a handful of skilled airlines executives of Bangladeshi origin. But they never got any chance to reach the top of career ladder. The government reserved the position for civil and military bureaucrats.

Bureaucratic dominance

Of the 45 years of Biman history 12 civil bureaucrats headed the airline for a total of about 20 years. They were Hadayet Ahmed, MK Anwar, Manzoor-ul-Karim, Syed Shamim Ahsan. M Faizur Razzaque, AH Mofazzal Karim, Abdul Muyed Chau-dhury, Ahbab Ahmed, M Omar Farooq, Al-Amin Chou-dhury, and Dr Mohammad Abdul Momen.

Military bureaucrats followed the civil bureaucrats in leading administration of Biman, both in duration and number. Eight military bureaucrats headed Biman for a total of about 15 years. They were Air Commodore AK Khandaker, Group Captain Shawkat-ul-Islam, Air Commodore M Rafiqul Islam, Air Commodore Khasrul Alam, Air Commodore Lutfar Rahman, Air Commodore M Liaquat Ali, Air Commodore Zahed Quddus, and Air Commodore Zakiul Islam.

Outside civil and military bureaucrats who ruled Biman for 35 years, only eight others including two recent expatriates led Biman for nine years. They were Captain Nasir Haider, Abdul Mannan, Captain M Rahman, Lt Col (Retd) M Mahmudur Rah-man, Captain Sheikh Nasir Uddin, A M Musaddaque Ahmed, Wing Commander M M Asaduzzaman and Akhter Hossain Khan.

It may be noted here that though these persons got appointed as Biman executives, they were not career airline person except the two pilots.

Of these persons, Lt Col (Retd) M Mahmudur Rahman led Biman five times for a total period of about 23 months as acting Managing Director. Before selected as MD and CEO on first of June 2016, Musaddaque served Biman as acting CEO and Md on two occasions for a period of 11 months. Before being made MD. Mannan was Director of Finance of Biman, Mahmudur Rahman and Musaddaque also joined senior executive position in Biman from other organisations.

Biman also got two expatriates career airline executives as MD and CEO. Kevin John Steel and Kyle Haywood lasted only 13 moths and 12 months respectively.

Number of MD & CEOs

In 45 years, the national flag carrier has received services of 32 persons as its administrative head. In past 10 years since Biman turned into PLC nine persons including two expatriates graced the chair.

MD & CEO of Biman since turned into PLC in 2007 are Dr Mohammad Abdul Momen, Group Captain Mollah Moshiur Rahman, Air Commodore Zahed Quddus, Air Commodore Zakiul Islam, Captain Sheikh Nassir Uddin, Kavin John Steele, Kyle Haywood, Wing Commander M M Asaduzzaman and AM Musaddaque Ahmed.

Boards to blame

The composition of Biman's board of directors will show absolute dominance of bureaucrats in the management. The board is nothing but a conglomerate of civil-military bureaucrats, including a few recruits unfamiliar with airlines trade. There is almost total absence of people having knowledge about running commercial airlines.

No wonder, the board has in the past 10 years, failed to make any progress in turnaround of the national flag carrier.

This has hit Biman badly. Despite induction in fleet_ six new modern aircraft, the national flag carrier is still in bad shape both operationally and financially.

The present predicament of the national flag carrier raises serious question about justification of continue with management board devoid of member from airline professionals or person with similar business background. It has proved beyond doubt that the skill and professional capability of the Biman Board of Directors are not suitable for properly running problem ridden airline like Biman.

It seems that the government has also realised that the board is not efficient enough to run effectively the affairs of Biman. The creation of Task Force may be the outcome of that realisation, in addition to regain authority.

Dynamic management & freedom

If formation of the Task Force is meant to put trouble ridden Biman on right track, then without hesitation it can be said that this a wrong move.

Moreover, the notification of MoCAT concerning formation of task force, listed its would be functions, but it did not specify the relation between the Board of Directors and the newly formed Task Force. Under the circumstance, fight between the two organisations, likely to develop, creating more trouble for Biman.

In fact, Biman does not need another fully bureaucrats- infested body to get back on right track. The national flag carrier most urgently needs dynamic professional management with forward look vision as well as freedom of operation.

The logic behind providing more freedom to the management of Biman, is many and varied. I believe the overriding rational has been rooted in the greater commercialism based on competitive principles.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism should act purely as the policy maker and the execution of the policy must be left solely to the management. Once policy and target is given, the function of the ministry must not to be more than a watchdog.

Good potential

Biman is possibly only airline in the world, which was created without any aircraft. Absence of aircraft at the beginning and subsequent perennial shortage of aircraft and massive shortage of fund had a crippling effect on the national airline of a war ravaged newborn country.

The restructuring and commercialisation of the airline is a must. Along with this immediate infusion of new blood is needed to regain the crippled vitality.

It is expected that with proper measures to install dynamic professional management and other necessary actions bad days would be the days of the past and Biman would emerge as a dynamic modern airline with a professional and efficient management.