Opaque dealings surrounding the controversial new airline, Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways), were always going to raise a stink.
The saga has all the ingredients of a massive scandal. For starters, public funds have been used to purchase aircraft for what is touted as a private company, although there a various versions of what it is. How is that feasible?
There have been several inconsistent explanations from public officials. Some say ZimAirways is a private airline meant to fill the vacuum created by the spectacular collapse of flag carrier Air Zimbabwe. Others say it is a dodgy company, whose shareholding and identity are shrouded in mystery.
Thanks to the tenacious probing of our investigative journalism, the much-sought-after answers are beginning to filter through.
As we report on today’s front page, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has ordered Transport minister Jorum Gumbo to bring home Zim Airways planes bought using public funds while government investigates the dodgy deal.
This follows our story last week where we reported that some senior government officials are deliberately sabotaging the debt-ridden flag carrier to pave way for the new private airline, which will also be emblazoned with national colours, Mnangagwa reportedly held a meeting with Gumbo and ministry officials where he said he wanted finality to the murky deal that could result in the sabotage and collapse of Air Zimbabwe.
The ZimAirways saga now requires to be fully investigated in the national interest and without fear or favour. It reeks of corruption.
Taxpayers, whose hard-earned money has been spent on this company whose genesis and ownership are as clear as mud, deserve to know the truth.
We have established that ZimAirways negotiated the purchase of four ultra-modern Boeing 777 long-haul planes from Malaysia, although payment was effected for only two. The airline was also in the process of buying two Embraer ERJ145 twin-engine regional jets. The story that Gumbo told Mnangagwa differs from the one he has been narrating in public.
He apparently told the President that ZimAirways is a government project. Interestingly, in public Gumbo has repeatedly claimed that this is a private airline and that he is merely assisting a Zimbabwean business venture which will benefit the nation. This is what Gumbo told the Zimbabwe Independent several times last year and he repeated it last week.
The ZimAirways saga raises the spectre of corruption. When the actions of public officials appear incompatible with the tenets of transparency and accountability, there is reasonable suspicion that the public interest is not being served. Open governance is anchored on rights, institutions and policies — and how citizens are empowered to demand public information in the name of holding leaders accountable. This enhances public oversight.
In a democracy, public officials must never be allowed to spend taxpayer funds on murky and dodgy projects whose origin and purpose are unknown to the public. Without transparency and accountability, there cannot be a new dispensation to talk about.