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Problems deepen at crippled AirZim

Godfrey Marawanyika/Roadwin Chirara

NATIONAL flag carrier Air Zimbabwe (Private) Ltd (AirZim) slipped further into chaos this week amid revelations that it owes other government institutions close to $50 bil

lion and US$3 million.

Among major creditors is the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ), which has bailed out AirZim with insurance since 2001.

CAAZ is owed in excess of $15 billion and nearly US$2 million in funds for the airline’s International Air Travel Association (IATA) obligations, fuel and other needs.

Air Zimbabwe also owes the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe $500 million.

The new information, coming just days after a biting Jet A1 fuel shortage grounded AirZim planes, also suggests that AirZim has disregarded a cabinet-approved turnaround programme meant to re-equip and streamline its bloated structure.

Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that the national airline suffered a flight disruption after it failed to make good on bail out funds provided by other state institutions.

AirZim, official sources said, was also indebted to southern and west African air navigation companies as well as the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The sources said AirZim had also sunk into crisis due to political interference and inept management. The government last week sacked Air Zimbabwe chief executive Tendai Mahachi after the airline cancelled all flights due to fuel shortage.

Transport minister Christopher Mushohwe was also allegedly actively involved in the management of AirZim through Mahachi.

It is understood that Mahachi was catapulted to the role of chief executive in December last year despite the fact that he was a distant fifth in job interviews conducted by Ernst & Young.

Former AirZim boss Huttush Muringi, Colonel Chirimuuta, George Mwase and Oscar Madombwe were among the shortlisted candidates who allegedly did better than Mahachi.

It was further alleged this week that Mushohwe not only influenced contentious AirZim decisions such as the opening of uneconomic routes like Harare-China and Thailand, but also single-handedly procured the two MA 60 planes from China.

The acquisitions flew in the face of government plans to replace AirZim’s ageing fleet with bigger and fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 777 or Boeing 767-300 ER, as part of the turnaround plan.

Under the ambitious 2003-2008 plan, AirZim was scheduled to “consolidate on its profitable routes” such as Harare-London, while discarding routes like Dubai and Thailand.

On Tuesday, Mushohwe denied that he influenced the interview results saying he had never met Mahachi before the appointment. “What is being said is all nonsense. People like me have a conscience,” Mushohwe said.

“Before Mahachi was appointed, the board asked Ernst & Young to do the interviews and they did their own recommendations. The board also did their own interviews and they recommended Mahachi. I had nothing to do with his appointment.”

Mushohwe also said he was never directly involved in running the airline with Mahachi.

“Those are just allegations of mischievous people. The record and the minutes are there for all to see. I had no role in the purchase of those planes. Talk to Jonathan Kadzura, the board vice-chairman. He knows what I talking about.”

The ageing Boeing 767-200 ER planes, grounded for much of last year, were to be dumped in the cargo division, which would be part of the AirZim group.

A re-branding exercise, including a possible name change for AirZim, was also mooted, while the airline’s 2 000-plus staff complement was to be reduced.

It is also understood there is a strategic turnaround paper meant to align AirZim’s expenses with revenue but it is yet to be implemented.

Officials accused Mushohwe of dissembling by claiming AirZim had failed to secure fuel from the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe when it is a public secret that the agency is failing to meet national demand.

Due to its high volatility and huge cost of insurance, which can be as much as US$10 million, Jet A1 fuel in Zimbabwe is mainly handled by multinational companies such as BP and Total.

Board chairman, Mike Bimha, confirmed that the airline was saddled with debts but could not be drawn into commenting on the CAAZ debt.

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