Chikumba will on Monday appear before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructure Development. This follows allegations made by workers facing retrenchment to the same committee last Monday that Air Zimbabwe management blew millions of dollars on questionable payments and almost doubled the airline’s workforce in two years by hiring associates at a time when business was down, according to evidence from workers’ representatives presented to the committee.
Blessing Chebundo, chairman of the committee, said Air Zimbabwe management was under investigation for running the national airline down and possible corruption.
“We have taken a serious interest in Air Zimbabwe,” said Chebundo. “The allegations being brought against management are serious and we want to get to the bottom of the matter.”
The committee will interview Chikumba on Monday.
“Poor controls of spare parts procurement resulted in the company over-stocking and some (parts) becoming obsolete,” the workers’ document said. “The company procures most parts from companies listed below which may show favouritism: American General Suppliers, Jet International, Aero Industrial Sales, Flight Products, Smith Industries, Aviation Air Motive and Avio Interiors.
“The last company (Avio Interiors) was paid US$250 000 for aircraft seats which were not supplied,” the document said.
The workers questioned why some companies were prioritised on payments ahead of workers.
They said some senior managers were seen driving around in vehicles owned by companies contracted by Air Zimbabwe to supply utilities and spare parts, raising suspicion of kickbacks. The workers told the committee that they would provide names of managers and companies suspected of siphoning Air Zimbabwe.
Chebundo said his committee would investigate whether a link existed between companies being prioritised and Air Zimbabwe executives. Parliament will also investigate Air Zimbabwe’s spare parts procurement and payments system.
Cronyism characterised the hiring of staff, they said. The company had hired 500 extra people between 2007, when Chikumba joined Air Zimbabwe, and 2009 against the advice of the workers’ committee, which saw no reason in increasing staff at a time when business was shrinking.
A recovery plan crafted in 2004 that would have resulted in increased routes through bilateral partnerships is in a shambles and has missed targets, it was alleged.
The 2004 plan, crafted under Mike Mahachi, who was later fired as CEO, had targeted an increase in market share on regional routes from 19% to 49% by December 2008 as well as increasing the airline’s international market share from 46% to 56% by December 2008.
Instead, Air Zimbabwe’s route network has shrunk and bilateral agreements with other airlines discontinued resulting in other airlines cashing in on where Zimbabwe could have made money, according to the document presented to the portfolio committee by the workers.
“Withdrawing from the Dubai route which has resulted in Ethiopian Airlines increasing its frequency into Harare connecting to Dubai from once a week to seven times a week, and withdrawing from Nairobi whilst Kenyan Airways increased its frequency seven times a week into Harare,” the workers said.
The workers cited partnerships with Aero Zambia, Air Malawi, Air Mauritius and Lignes Aeriennes du Congo of the DRC as having been discontinued.
Chikumba was unavailable for comment. — Staff Writer.