TRANSPORT minister Joram Gumbo and his Local Government counterpart July Moyo are in deep trouble over US$300 000 which was sunk in a botched deal in which controversial airline Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways) was hired to carry Zanu PF campaign material from China and India ahead of the critical July 30 general elections, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
By Bernard Mpofu
After rolling out its US$200-million campaign ahead of the first elections after the ouster of long-time leader Robert Mugabe in a military coup last November, Moyo, who is also Zanu PF secretary for transport, last month approached Gumbo, in his capacity as Transport minister, to assist in facilitating a cargo plane to ferry the campaign material consignment.
It is understood Gumbo agreed to help and then arranged to use the dodgy ZimAirways aircraft without paying attention to registration and regulatory issues involved. The move spectacularly backfired and triggered a fight over the fiasco within top Zanu PF circles and among cabinet ministers.
Gumbo, according to government and Zanu PF sources, told senior administration bureaucrats and party officials that the Boeing 777, recently acquired from Malaysia for US$18 million amid complaints of corruption, would be chartered to China and India without an air operator’s certificate (AOC).
An AOC grants approval by a national aviation authority to an aircraft operator to use its planes for commercial purposes. This requires the operator to have personnel, assets and systems in place to ensure the safety of its employees, passengers and the general public.
Senior Zanu PF officials told the Independent this week that during the planning stages of the trips to China and India to ferry the ruling party’s massive campaign materials, Gumbo wrote to Transport secretary George Mlilo and Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive David Chawota applying for exemption from compliance
with civil aviation regulations in a bid to ensure the Boeing 777 (registration Z-RGM) flies out to bring the consignment.
The application deceptively claimed the plane was due to fly out on “state duties”, a convenient description and mask of the task of ferrying Zanu PF campaign material.
However, Indian civil aviation authorities told ZimAirways they would not grant the shady aircraft landing rights because Gumbo’s waiver had no jurisdiction or validity outside Zimbabwe, more so given the controversial nature of the flight.
Another Zanu PF official said after Gumbo had agreed to facilitate the cargo flight, ZimAirways consultant Simba Chikore, who has also been doubling as de facto chief executive although was away in the United Kingdom on a training programme at the time, then instructed his management to write to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa requesting more than US$300 000 to cover costs related to the proposed flights to China and India on Zanu PF business. Chinamsa is also Zanu PF secretary for finance. The funds, according to sources, were transferred to the murky airline via a local commercial bank. It is not clear whether Chinamsa paid the bill from party or public funds.
“In early May, ZimAirways wrote to Chinamasa requesting money to fly the Boeing 777-200 from Harare (Robert Mugabe International Airport) to Beijing, China, to pick up Zanu PF cargo which contained the party’s campaign material,” a senior Zanu PF official said.
“The party had approached ZimAirways with the view to hire it to make 40 flights divided equally between China and India to bring home the huge consignment. The deal involved over US$300 000 in payments broken down into fees for navigation database, fuel, per diems for pilots, hotel accommodation in Harare and China, and India and costs associated with flight planning.”
Sources said ZimAirways, mired in a storm of controversy and corruption relating to its genesis, funding and ownership, was hired despite the fact that it does not have adequate registration papers and permits.
Gumbo, sources said, was informed of permits snd regulatory hurdles at the eleventh hour after civil aviation authorities in China and India warned ZimAirways would not be allowed to fly there as it had no required papers. The flight, sources added, was expected to leave Harare on May 9 and return home with the cargo three days later.
When it later became clear it would not fly to China and India, a fierce row broke out within Zanu PF and government circles over the botched deal which has affected the ruling party’s campaign programme and preparations for the elections, with Gumbo and Moyo in the firing line.
Gumbo was particularly targeted as his bungle, following hard on the heels of the ZimAirways scandal, cost Zanu PF more than US$300 000. ZimAirways — whose formation story has become a web of half-truths, lies and deception with government officials ducking and diving over the issue — is now unable to refund Zanu PF after it used the money on administrative and operational costs.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Gumbo referred all questions to Moyo. “Talk to Moyo, I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. Moyo’s phone was, however, not reachable, while a message sent to him had not yet been responded to at the time of going to press.
Following the botched deal, the Boeing 777 is now grounded in Malaysia. Senior government officials are now demanding it be flown back home to reduce storage costs as the ZimAirways corruption merry-go-round continues.