19 October 2017

Zimbabwe: What's Going On At Air Zimbabwe?

editorial

There is some merit to assertions that aviation, in poor countries such as Zimbabwe, is an elitist pursuit.

Following this logic, issues relating to flying are, necessarily, elitist issues.

However, where national airlines such as Air Zimbabwe are concerned, the public interest is not hard to locate.

Air Zimbabwe is bankrolled by tax funds and should, therefore, be accountable to the public.

Apart from direct transfers from Treasury to the airline, Zimbabweans have also frequently and unwittingly kept Air Zimbabwe through various ways.

The New Number Plate Revolving Fund, which collects revenue from motorists registering their vehicles, has sunk close to $40 million into Air Zimbabwe, with no prospect of recouping the money.

Zimbabwean motorists pay $160 for number plates, as much as ten times the cost in comparable African countries, to sustain government's expensive habit of holding onto loss-making firms that are not even accountable to the taxpayer.

Air Zimbabwe is yet to present audited accounts since dollarisation.

Government, which plans to burden the taxpayer with $330 million in yet another no-questions-asked parastatal bailout of Air Zimbabwe, is complicit in the airline's disregard for transparency and accountability.

Since news of a planned new national airline broke in June, government has spiritedly beaten off all queries over its plans for Air Zimbabwe.

Government's secretive "restructuring" of Air Zimbabwe, which we hear will mutate to Zimbabwe Airways, reeks of sinister motives.

Government will do Zimbabwe a huge favour if, while procuring some aircraft from Malaysian Airlines, they study how that company was restructured.

Following the twin disasters of March 2014, when MH370 disappeared, and July 2014 when MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, Malaysian Airlines restructured into a new company and moved to rebrand.

The government took over the firm, which had to be de-listed from the stock exchange, and appointed a seasoned administrator to oversee the $1,7 billion revamp.

All this did not take place under the kind of secrecy government and Air Zimbabwe's leadership are keeping over the airline's affairs.

That no public statement has been made regarding who is in charge at Air Zimbabwe reflects the disdain both government and the airline's board have for transparency and accountability to the people, the company's ultimate shareholders.

All this makes government's commitment to a new corporate governance culture ring hollow.

As does its stated intention of reducing parastatals' unending, costly reliance on central government for bailouts.

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