WHAT TO DO WITH ZIMBABWE AIRWAYS
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has ordered Transport minister Jorum Gumbo to bring home Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways) planes secretly bought using public funds, while government investigates the dodgy deal that could collapse the debt-ridden flag carrier Air Zimbabwe (AirZim).
Following the Zimbabwe Independent’s dogged reportage on the deal — that reeks of non-disclosure and conflict of interest by government officials, abuse of public funds and potential asset-stripping of AirZim — Mnangagwa last week ordered Gumbo to bring the planes from Malaysia.
Official sources said, after reading the Independent’s story last week, and following the issue over months, Mnangagwa held a meeting with Gumbo, his ministry and central bank officials, where he demanded clarity on the deal.
When it became clear that the arrangement was murky, the president demanded that the planes — Boeing 777 aircraft — should now be flown to Zimbabwe and be parked under government control until the situation is clarified and settled.
ZimAirways, associated with Gumbo and former president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law and ex-AirZim chief operations officer Simba Chikore, negotiated a consignment of four Boeing 777 long-haul passenger jets from Malaysia, but had paid only for two of the aircraft.
The company was also in the process of purchasing two Embraer ERJ145 planes from the United States.
“About US$34 million was paid for through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for the two Boeing 777s using public funds.
“The planes cost US$18 million and US$16 million each,” a senior government official told the Independent. “ED (Mnangagwa) was alarmed by the deal after repeatedly receiving conflicting briefings on it, prompting him to demand a full report and an investigation to ascertain the ownership structure, organisation and control of the airline as well as its relationship with AirZim.”
This comes as several versions of the deal have been circulating in aviation circles and the corridors of power, as well as among the public.
Officially, ZimAirways is supposed to be a government project. According to the authorities, the new airline was going to buy and keep the planes for AirZim, while parliament steered through a process to assume the state airline’s over US$300 million debt to clean its balance sheet to start on a new page. Gumbo has reportedly been peddling this version in government circles.
Government was last year said to be rolling out an ambitious plan to overhaul AirZim which would have seen Treasury taking over the airline’s legacy debts by way of liquidation before acquiring new planes from Asia and rebranding to ZimAirways.