ZIMBABWE Independent reporter Herbert Moyo (HM) this week spoke to Transport minister Joram Gumbo on his development plans and challenges bedevilling broken parastatals under his ministry. Below are excerpts of the interview.
HM: It’s been six months since your appointment. What are the highlights of your tenure so far?
JG: These first six months have all about fire-fighting as there were and are still many issues pertaining to human resources to deal with in the ministry and its parastatals.
I found that many of the people had been fired at CAAZ, people had also been dismissed at Air Zimbabwe, Traffic Safety Council, CMED, Zinara and the NRZ too.
The CAAZ chair had been fired and even worse, just two days after my appointment, the CAAZ board dissolved itself through mass resignations when more than half left and thereafter there was no quorum.
HM: What are your plans for CAAZ?
JG: We will split CAAZ into two entities namely Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority (ZIMCAA) and Airports Management Company (AMC). ZIMCAA will take charge of regulatory services while AMC will be in charge of commercial aviation operations. Unbundling will also ensure that Zimbabwe complies with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards which require regulatory and operational functions to be separated from each other.
HM: There are concerns that that you fired vastly experienced individuals like Alvord Mabhena at NRZ while bringing back some individuals who have corruption investigations or court cases pending as in the cases of David Chawota at CAAZ and Davison Mhaka at CMED?
JG: Boards serve at the pleasure of the minister who appoints. I cannot tell you why Mabhena is out except to say that he who appoints can also disappoint. As for Chawota and Mhaka it’s a different case as these applied for their positions and there are procedures to be followed in dealing with such people.
As far as records are concerned, there’s no case against Chawota. No-one has ever come to me with a complaint. All I read are things anybody can write. I brought him back but that does not exonerate him if evidence is found of wrong-doing on his part. If they investigate and indeed find him guilty then we can act but not before that.
Mhaka was exonerated by the tribunal- a board of inquiry that was set up by CMED. It was not me who exonerated him but the board.
HM: What of the perennially loss-making Air Zimbabwe?
JG: There is a US$360 million debt which we are parking as government. I have been given the cabinet approval to negotiate with companies to find those who can partner us. They will bring in planes, management and do skills transfer over time. I’m currently working on a paper to take back to cabinet on the issue.
In the short-term we should get at least two planes for long haul routes and another two for regional routes. We have a number of companies interested in partnering us and talks are underway.
We are also looking at reactivating some of the routes we think can bring in income like the London route
HM: When is the Victoria Falls Airport going to be opened?
JG: The commissioning of the Victoria Falls Airport is scheduled for May. It is operational already, although there’s still work on the old terminal which will become the domestic terminal. The parking area is now complete, even the inflight facility will be available too.
There will be a four-kilometre runway to accommodate wide-body aircraft and long-haul traffic once all is complete.
HM: What were the specific challenges at Zinara?
JG: The roads have been our major problem child. We are working together with district councils, urban councils and DDF to fix the roads.
Zinara is collecting US$150 million a year in tollgate fees, but we are using a significant part of that to pay off Group Five debts.
Zinara is doing well in collecting and disbursing this money to local authorities although we want improvement in the collection system to reduce corruption.
Zinara has also bought graders for all district councils.
HM: Who was awarded the tender to rehabilitate the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Road and when will work start?
JG: The project is not far away as we have been given the go-ahead by His Excellency (President Robert Mugabe) to conclude discussions with a certain company.
What is left is to sign an MOU with this company whose identity I cannot disclose for now. We are proposing to have eight segments in the construction process and this project will create 300 000 jobs. It is extremely important for us to work quickly on the Beitbridge-Chirundu road because our neighbours, including South Africa, have made plans for a road network that by-passes Zimbabwe stretching to Kazungula.
HM: South African company Group Five rehabilitated the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Mutare Highway. Why is it that they were not considered for this forthcoming project?
JG: This is a totally different project from the one they worked on and we were not going to give them tenders to construct all the roads.
This is not the only project we will be undertaking. In fact, next week we will invite bids for the construction of the Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls and the Harare-Nyamapanda roads. In addition, whoever is constructing these roads will also have to erect fences to make them safe from animals.
HM: Are there any plans to dualise the Plumtree-Mutare highway anytime soon?
JG: There are no immediate plans to dualise this road as it is wide enough for now. However, the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu and Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls roads will be dualised.
HM: What of NRZ as well as the plight of unpaid workers?
JG: NRZ has been dysfunctional- there are no locomotives, no wagons, no signals and the parastatal is owed more than US$20 million by the GMB, ZPC, Makomo and rentals which have not been collected.
We are still working on ways of re-capitalising, rehabilitation as well as paying the salaries of retrenches. We are looking for US$600 million for re-capitalisation.