A PARLIAMENTARY bloc yesterday accused senior Gulf Air officials of running an employment racket, hiring unqualified personnel to top positions. The eight-MP Al Asala Islamic bloc yesterday welcomed the alleged sacking of a Finnish official responsible for the company’s future strategy, but warned that the worst is yet to come, as new unqualified personnel were being hired.
The bloc now wants the contracts of more officials to be terminated in what they hope would help cut losses and turn the company’s fortunes.
“We are very concerned about the company’s direction as there are more problems expected in the future with more unqualified employees being appointed,” said bloc spokesman and parliament financial and economic affairs committee vice-chairman MP Abdulhaleem Murad.
“Yes, the company has done something good and that is sacking the unqualified Finnish official responsible for the company’s future strategy, but that’s not the end of it, considering that the company will pay for all of the damage he has done,” he said.
“There are other foreign officials who should go, and with respect to all those who are unqualified, we suspect that their employment is being triggered by a mafia of senior officials, backed by a board member.
“For example, the marketing director who we believe should be sacked, spent around BD700,000 to bring in a musical group Simply Red, to play in one the events for an hour and what I am asking is, if this is what a sane, qualified official should have done, considering that the company needs every fil at this difficult time.”
Mr Murad said that their bloc was not calling for the employment of unqualified Bahrainis.
“For example, the company sent several Bahrainis to train as pilots in Jordan without checking their records and later discovered that some were involved in criminal cases,” he said.
“That’s not all – the company is trying to hire an unqualified Bahraini as the financial controlling director, despite others more qualified than her being around. Nothing is being done even as she is set to take up her duties next month.”
Mr Murad said that board chairman Talal Al Zain had to take action considering that there were numerous complaints from officials and employees demanding a change in the company’s condition as well as theirs.
“We hope that the chairman is genuine, keen and would take action, to help put the company on the right track, rather than see it crash further.
“Since Bahrain became the sole owner of Gulf Air in October 2007, we expected an end to corruption and corrupt officials, but this didn’t happen. On the contrary, it has increased.”
“Corruption is still going on at the IT department and suspicious employees are being appointed by the president and chief executive Mr Bjorn NŠf, aided by other officials, and we demand that Mr Al Zain furnishes a detailed list of those who have been employed or promoted since that date.
Mr Murad said that the bloc was not against Gulf Air, it was just trying to help it stand on its feet.
“This is our national carrier, yet nothing is being done to pull it out from the brink.”
Parliament financial and economic affairs committee chairman and Al Wefaq MP Abduljalil Khalil said last month that government money was being squandered on high wages and bonuses for key officials at Gulf Air while the airline is failing.
He said that Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, which owns Gulf Air, was pumping money into a recovery strategy that is yet to materialise.
Parliament demanded in January that Mr NŠf be sacked, saying he is not up to the mark. The call followed a meeting between parliament’s financial and economic affairs committee and airline board members, led by executive committee chairman and director Mr Jawad Habib Jawad.
A statement issued later through parliament’s general secretariat called for a “search for a new chief executive who has the qualifications and experience necessary to run a commercial airline.”
It also called for the replacement of four expatriate chiefs of various divisions, by Bahrainis.
Out of six such posts, only two are currently held by Bahrainis.
MPs say the airline’s problems have continued under Mr NŠf’s leadership and that he has employed expatriates in high-ranking posts for which they have neither experience nor qualifications.
Mr Khalil said that parliamentary blocs and independent MPs had postponed setting up a probe committee into the company’s affairs, but will dwell on it again later this month.
Gulf Air officials were unavailable for comment yesterday. firstname.lastname@example.org