Is Aeroportos de Moçambique for sale to reduce the debt?

President-Guebuza-inaugurates-Nacala-Airport-2

In an unclear set of statements last week, it was revealed that Aeroportos de Moçambique (AdM) is to be restructured and part privatised. The company lost money last year, according to company chair Emanuel Chaves who refused to give numbers. He added that AdM has government guaranteed debts of US$500-million.

In particular, on Wednesday 1 June, Chaves said that AdM wants to “covert these guaranteed debts to another financer who might buy our debt”. The debt is largely for new airport facilities in Maputo and Pemba (Cabo Delgado Province) and the new airport in Nacala. The debt includes loans of US$130-million from China and either US$80-million or US$144-million from the Brazilian development bank (BNDES).

On Tuesday 31 May, the Mozambique Cabinet announced that the new Nacala airport would be privately operated. Nacala has proved to be a white elephant. Opened in 2014 with the promise of being a major international airport, it has a capacity of 500,000 passengers per year and can accommodate planes up to the size of a Boeing 747. But so far it has only one flight a day from Maputo, and no foreign airline has expressed any interest in flying there.

The airport was funded with a US$144-million loan from BNDES, conditional on the contract going to a Brazilian company; without tender, it was given to Odebrecht for both design and construction. The website Diário do Poder claims the money went directly to Odebrecht and did not even pass through Mozambique. Last year, company president Marcelo Odebrecht was jailed for 19 years as part of the Lava Jato corruption scandal in Brazil; he was convicted of corruption, money  laundering and belonging to a criminal organisation. The judge also cited the involvement of the Odebrecht company in this “criminal scheme”.

In addition, five tiny airports will be privately operated, Chaves said: Inhamane (the only one with scheduled flights), Bilene, Lumbo, Ponta de Ouro, and Mocímboa da Praia. And on Friday 3 June, President Filipe Nyusi, speaking in Maputo at a lunch for business people, said that: “The government is reflecting on the relevance of the existence of at least 20 [state] companies. We [have already] talked about the company Aeroportos de Moçambique. However, more companies will be evaluated”. This seems a clear message that AdM and other state companies could be privatised.

Who might buy the AdM debt?

AdM has a range of assets and probably could be turned into a profitable company even though, globally, small airports usually lose money (according to the Airports Council International). So AdM could be privatised. However, Chaves implied that the real goal is to get the US$500-million debt off the government books. How might that be done?

There is a widespread belief that a large part of the US$2.3-billion in secret debts went into foreign bank accounts and the deep pockets of some senior people, and there is growing pressure on those people to repatriate some of that money. Others, too, might be tapped – Mozambique remains a highly profitable transit point for heroin, with money going to important people.

And the last 20 years has seen some people become wealthy through commissions of various sorts. Patronage networks involve reciprocal promises of future help if needed. Is now a time of need? Could some of these promises be called in? Might a secret Virgin Islands company be created which might pay to take over not just AdM, but its debt as well?

Source: Mozambique News Reports & Clippings
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