Nigeria - The decision of the Federal Government to grant 65 percent waiver to organisations on all aviation charges payable to relevant government agencies handling Hajj 2011 operations have been criticized by major stakeholders in the nation's aviation industry.

In a memo dated February 17, 2011 with reference NAFCON/CA/155/1/160, and signed by its Chairman, Alhaji Goni Sanda to all airlines that are to participate in the exercise, stated in part that " Mr. President has approved 65 per cent waiver on all aviation charges payable to relevant government agencies handling Hajj operations. "You are kindly requested to contact the relevant agencies and reconcile your accounts with them in order to enable the commission effect the final payment due."

The directive is said to have put strain on the operations and calculations of relevant aviation agencies including the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and is expected to lead to over $4 million loss, not only to the agencies but to the economy at large.

Head of Research, Zenith Travels, Olumide Ohunayo in an email expressed disappointment at government's decision describing the 65 per cent waiver as "a reckless and unwarranted subsidy".

He said," The recent decision of the government to grant additional waivers to airlines and organisations that lobbied through a shredded bidding process for Hajj flights despite getting regulatory waivers from the National Hajj Commission(NAHCON) and the NCAA are another unnecessary presidential intervention and a concurrent political misstep in the industry, which has gradually become the hallmark of this administration.

"The NCAA issued a statement that only airlines with Air Operators Certificate (AOC) will be eligible to bid for the hajj flights, while NAHCON barely two months ago, issued a statement that, only airlines that have cleared financial backlogs with the government agencies will operate those flights.

"To our chagrin, It's the same agencies Mr. President have now given directives to grant a whopping 65 per cent discount on operational charges, what a policy somersault. A curious look at the list of would be Hajj operators, shows that the two bodies have either reversed themselves policy-wise or have granted an executive induced waiver.

"The government should be told that airlines publicly owned or substantially owned by Nigerians are the only ones qualified for public subsidy not airlines owned by individuals. Also airlines operating national or emergency assignments are also considered for such subsidy or those operating public service obligation routes."

He also ascribed the current trend to the coming elections stating that government was panicking, and thereby making wrong decisions.

" The government weakness or is it panicky frame is due to the coming elections and the unending Zoning brouhaha of the ruling party, which has necessitated this hajj 'gift', at the expense of public income. If they have to grant such subsidy, it should support weak routes on the West Coast and in Nigeria, such as Makurdi, Bauchi, Akure e.t.c.

"This waiver is simply reckless and unwarranted, the government should be prepared to give this wasteful gift to Christian pilgrim operators whether owned by Nigerians or not. Also the management of the agencies will be put under pressure to meet operational expenses that might breed industrial disharmony which may have grave safety implications for the industry," he said.

Aviation consultant, Captain Dele Ore, also said although the issue of Hajj is very sensitive, he, however, said it was inconceivable for an agency that is not funded by government to begin to give arbitrary waiver, describing it as policy somersault.

Many are of the opinion that the president may have been misled again into taking action is not favourable to the sector. Where does the sector go from here? It is obvious that the end is near for them.

Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, John Enoh, said the revenue base of the country has been jeopardised because of the abuse linked to import waivers.

He said, "We had a public hearing some time ago on the internally generated revenue of this country and one of the issues that came up was that of waivers. Waivers have made this country to lose billions; what has the waivers achieved? Must there be waivers?

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