By Maxwell Sibanda
The government of Zimbabwe is not telling the nation the truth with regards to the purchase of new planes, analysts contend.
Last week, a Zimbabwe Airways plane, registered as Z-RGM, arrived at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, the first of four B777s controversially purchased from Malaysia.
Malaysian Airlines decommissioned the 777s following the disappearance of two similar planes, including the doomed MH370 flight.
The government has, however, been sending mixed signals over the acquisition of new planes that the State media once claimed were meant for the revival of Air Zimbabwe although it emerged that the planes are owned by a private company, Zimbabwe Airways suspected to have close links with former president Robert Mugabe’s family.
Now government has come out and claimed ownership of the controversial airline, a claim that contradicts Transport minister Joram Gumbo who has consistently said that Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (ZALC) owned Zimbabwe Airways.
Speaking at a function at Robert Mugabe International Airport to receive the first plane, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said ZALC was a government company which it had used to acquire the planes from Malaysia, allegedly as a strategy to evade sanctions.
“I am here to categorically state that the aeroplane standing outside is the property and an asset of the government of Zimbabwe. I know speculation has been rife that the airline belonged to the former first family. That is false.
“They have no interest of any kind in this aircraft. I am also here to make it clear that Simba Chikore (Mugabe’s son-in-law) has no shareholding at all, directly or indirectly,” Chinamasa said.
“We kept the deal under wraps to avoid the trap of sanctions. As you know, we are under sanctions and with the hostility that we have received; it was difficult to do business.
“Each time we said we were going to one country for business, lots of emails would be sent there and we would not get any favour from the hosts. So, we decided that it was best to keep our heads cool and remain focused until the deal was done,” said Chinamasa.
The Finance minister added that ZALC would lease the new planes to Zim Airways. “We realised that there was no reason we should keep pouring money into a bottomless pit. We wanted a strong airline to service the interests of the country … to bring in tourists and business to the country, and for that we needed a strong airline,” he said.
Crisis Coalition spokesperson Tabani Moyo said the whole deal smells of corruption.
“Governments the world over are supposed to be coherent mechanisms through which accountable decisions are communicated to the public. The contradictions by the minister of Transport with the minister of Finance initially show that there is more to what meets the eye.
“Initially the Transport minister alluded to the fact that the new airline Zimbabwe Airways is owned by Zimbabweans in Diaspora, only to change upon being squeezed, that it’s owned by the government.
“Now the government buys planes and leases them to ‘the government’. I think the people of Zimbabwe deserve better,” said Moyo.
Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said the Zimbabwe Airways and Air Zimbabwe saga remains murky despite attempts by Chinamasa to explain otherwise.
“The fact remains that what Chinamasa said is probably the fourth if not the fifth explanation of this planes story.
“The bottom line is that the government owes the people more clarity on the ownership and transactions on the planes and the roles of the various players.
“Above all does Zimbabwe deserve decommissioned planes? Any deals done in secrecy purportedly for our benefit tend to end up with notable loses for the country and I think the Zimbabwe Airways and Air Zimbabwe story is but half told, if at all,” said Mukundu.
Analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said it just shows how crude and primitive the Zanu PF stealing machinery is. “First, Ethiopia receives a Dreamliner 787, showing that the country is headed into the future. We receive an old 777 and boast about it …”
“These guys must take us for fools. Why not liquidate Air Zimbabwe? This criminal act of taking taxpayers’ money and funnelling it into a family business is a national crisis that calls for Parliamentary scrutiny,” said Ngwenya.
Former MDC spokesperson and lawyer Obert Gutu said this whole Zimbabwe Airways saga stinks!
“Government is not telling us the exact truth. So we let the national airline, Air Zimbabwe, die in order to give life to a privately-owned competitor, Zimbabwe Airways? Who does that?
“There are a lot of huge skeletons hidden in the government cupboards. Who are the real owners of Zimbabwe Airways? Are they Bona Mugabe and her husband, Simba Chikore?
“Why are we privatising national assets using public funds? What role did my big brother, … Gumbo, the Transport minister, play in this whole saga? Indeed, there are more questions than answers.”
Gutu added that the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission should immediately swing into action and investigate this shadowy transaction that gave rise to the formation of Zimbabwe Airways.
“It would appear that some people in high political society are directly benefiting from this shadowy deal. As they say, in most, if not all corrupt countries, if you’re not at the table then you are most likely on the menu!”
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said as we already know now, the Zimbabwe Airways deal smells of a big rat!
“There is a healthy suspicion that public financial management ethics were shoved aside somewhere, leaving us hoping that someone must then be held to account.
“Neither is this an isolated case in Zimbabwe because procurement processes using public funds, be it we are buying airplanes, or some trifling, have always been seized by government officials as opportunities for self-enrichment.”
Gwede added if anything was to be bought or sold by the government today, you would almost always expect some such trickery.
“It has precisely become a well-perfected dark art in the hallways of power.
“Sadly, to see how bad it has become, it would appear those guys could always pull the trick whether we are buying airplanes or toothpicks!
“This is why Zimbabweans are clamouring for accountability and transparency.”
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the whole issue is conspiracy between the Mugabes and Mnangagwa regime.
“They are operating together and the public is being misled. Code RGM under AITA codes is dedicated for Rangemile Limited. Don’t read too much into that code.”
The recent airplanes deal came as Air Zimbabwe is now barely managing to service its domestic and international passengers, who are increasingly enduring horrendous flight cancellations and re-scheduling.
And although Air Zim’s fleet supposedly comprises 10 “active” aircraft — two Boeing 767s, three 737s, three MA60s and two Airbus A320s — well-placed sources recently told our sister paper the Daily News that the debt-ridden national airline now only had three of these in the air, servicing both its domestic and regional routes.
Air Zim has over the past three decades struggled to shake off claims of gross corruption and ineptitude, which has led to the dismissals of several of its boards and senior managers.
The airline is said to be losing up to $3 million a month, in addition to being saddled with a $300 million declared debt. Daily News