Bahrain - A minister has pledged to study and investigate alleged financial irregularities and mismanagement of the country’s national carrier, Gulf Air, aired during a heated, lengthy debate as the airline once again came under scrutiny by Parliament.

Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Kamal Ahmed, who is politically responsible for Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company that Gulf Air currently comes under the wings of, promised that all matters raised would be thoroughly studied and investigated.

“We have a recovery plan from the devastation that has hit Gulf Air – and all other airlines in the region – during the pandemic,” said Mr Ahmed.

“The money that Gulf Air receives as support from the government is not shared within other companies under the Gulf Air Group Holding, it is intended for the airline’s finances,” he explained.

“There is also income from Mumtalakat, besides revenues from the group holding, that we use to fund the airline and steer it forward.

“We will study and investigate any possible wrongdoing Parliament has highlighted. There are urgent measures that we have already started covering - issues such as local employment, spending and destinations.”

He promised that the sovereign wealth fund would immediately correct and take the necessary action required if any serious matters of wrongdoing were uncovered as a result of Parliament’s probe into the business.

He outlined plans for the airline during a four-hour debate aimed at increasing Bahrainisation, reducing losses, as well as new profit enhancing and cost-saving concepts.

MPs approved 14 recommendations submitted by the parliamentary panel, headed by Parliament first vice-chairman Abdulnabi Salman, and submitted it to the Cabinet for consideration.

Claims were made during the debate of allegations of money being squandered and misappropriated, failed planning procedures, double standards, unfair dismissals, an unhealthy working environment and low Bahrainisation in several sectors.

According to statistics provided to the committee, Gulf Air had suffered losses amounting to BD77 million in 2021, BD91.9m in 2020 and BD38m in 2019. The airline’s worst-ever loss was, however, in 2012 when it reached an unprecedented BD200m.

The meeting also heard that Gulf Air had won a BD7m legal case concerning a failed video service and further compensation was being sought in a London court.

Whistle-blowers would also be protected the minister said.

“Employees who MPs claim have been threatened for giving information to Parliament will not be sacked or harassed because it is part of their national duty to co-operate with Parliament,” said the minister.

Meanwhile, Parliament’s public utilities and environment affairs committee chairman Khalid Bu Onk, who gave a presentation during the meeting, alleged that several Gulf Air cheques of several hundreds of dinars a time had ‘gone missing’, had no validated date on them and were not properly accounted for.

He also claimed some retired managers were receiving lowered pensions below the BD4,000 maximum allowed alongside additional bonuses and allowances of up to BD17,000 to stay off the radar.

Bahrainisation Committee chairman Ebrahim Al Nefaei claimed several Bahraini female candidates had been denied employment because they have small hand tattoos which the airline considered ‘un-Islamic’.

“The airline sells and serves alcohol and yet they deny females a job because they have small tattoos on their hands! This is double standards,” he said.

“Then they say Bahraini women don’t want to work as air hostesses but that is not the case as many flights are to regional destinations and they can be back home on the same day.”

MP Mahmood Al Bahrani claimed Gulf Air was opening and closing destinations for political not business reasons.

“A line to Tel Aviv is opened while the demand for religious destinations in Iraq and Iran are not met,” he said.

MP Ammar Qambar said he proposed cheaper disposable blankets be placed on board rather than removing and washing fabric ones but the suggestion was ignored.

Mr Salman said no one wanted to dismantle or close the airline. “Gulf Air is our image and we want it to be the right one,” he said.

“We need management that can have a strong grip on the business and make it work.

“I hope that every Parliament will continue probing the airline until it gets fixed.”

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