AirZim crash failure microcosm

Air Tanzania unveiled a brand new ultra-modern Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner jet this week, the fourth in a batch of seven aircraft bought by President John Magufuli’s government since 2015.

Editor’s Memo,Brezhnev Malaba

While this lovely spectacle was unfolding in Dar es Salaam, the opposite was happening here at home as Air Zimbabwe surrendered its long-standing monopoly on domestic routes.

The government, AirZim’s sole shareholder, has thrown in the towel by allowing budget airlines fastjet and FlyAfrica to introduce flights on the Harare-Bulawayo route, effectively writing the flag carrier’s epitaph. Prior to this, the state-owned airline had lost its monopoly on all the regional routes into Zimbabwe, especially the potentially lucrative Harare-Johannesburg and Victoria Falls-Johannesburg. Trouble escalated when Harare-London slipped from AirZim’s shaky grasp, erasing a revenue stream that had helped the airline keep a sizeable fleet in the sky. The loss of these domestic, regional and international routes spells disaster for AirZim.

Nothing typifies the gross mismanagement, corruption and incompetence of the Zanu PF government more than the spectacular collapse of AirZim. This airline used to be the pride of the nation, winning multiple awards, flying the Zimbabwe bird high and making a significant contribution to economic development.

For our citizens in faraway countries, there was no better joy than seeing the multi-coloured tailfin of an AirZim plane thousands of kilometres away from home. Even the airline’s pay-off line, “A tradition of caring”, became the motto of excellence. These days, the company exists only in name, plundered to a shell by corrupt managers and meddlesome politicians whose destructive behaviour is a painful reminder of how public enterprises have been looted and run down.

In the complex world of managerial economics, numbers tell a story. Sifting through the AirZim figures is like watching a horror movie. As at December 2017, the insolvent airline’s debt had ballooned to US$341 million. If you think this is surprising, wait for this shocker: there has not been an external audit at AirZim since 2009.

How does a state enterprise go for nine long years without an external audit? How do you ensure accountability and transparency to shareholders and the citizens who, ultimately, are the owners of the business? How do you identify deficiencies in the accounting systems and in the internal controls? Without an audit for almost a decade, how does the company enhance its credibility in the marketplace? This is not only a flagrant violation of the Public Finance management Act but also a massive indictment on the pathetic governance culture which has brought the economy to its knees.

In recent months, we have reported extensively in these pages on a dodgy plan by public officials to prop up a new airline, Zimbabwe Airways, while deliberately suffocating AirZim. The officials have issued conflicting statements on what exactly their intentions are. Has the government finally given up on AirZim? They must come clean. Good governance demands transparency.

The tragedy is that AirZim is not an isolated case. Corruption and mismanagement permeate the entire ecosystem of parastatals and public affairs. Consider this: in 2017, the government spent beyond its revenue by US$2,52 billion. In the first three months of 2018 alone, the budget deficit has shot beyond US$225 million.

These astounding economic numbers point to reckless, inefficient and incompetent fiscal management. With electioneering reaching fever pitch in the countdown to the July 30 general election, we have witnessed the government’s unrestrained appetite for profligate spending. Soldiers and civil servants have been lavished with salary increments and allowances on the eve of polling day in a last-gasp effort by Zanu PF to garner votes. Luxury cars are being parcelled out and the appetite for foreign travel has not waned.
As the AirZim fiasco has shown, Zimbabwe needs a new vision and governance culture.