Broke Air Zimbabwe Owes Workers US$1.4million in Salaries

Harare, Zimbabwe, 21 October 2009

Air Zimbabwe, the wholly government-owned Zimbabwe National Airline has not paid its workers since February this year and owes them a total of US$1.4million, according to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Patson Mbiriri.

"At the moment, we can not find a suitor for the airline as no one is willing to take over liability for our debts," Mbiriri told State media yesterday. "We are currently living from hand to mouth in most sectors of the economy," he added.

The airline has now approached government to help with retrenchment packages for its workers, Mbiriri said, admitting that the airline is "overstaffed" and this was hampering efforts to find an investor.

Air Zimbabwe currently employs 175 technicians, for instance, which is way too much for its fleet of three functioning jets.

The Chief Executive of the Airline admits that the national carrier "is in intensive care" while vaguely suggesting that he and his board are working on "routes" to be able to improve the performance of this ailing company, which should be turning a profit without breaking a sweat if run properly.

Air Zimbabwe is another of the government companies that Mugabe uses to dish out patronage to his loyalists and retired army personnel.

The Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, (who is so powerful now that he is basically the president of Zimbabwe where teh economy is concerned), is directly responsible for this state of affairs. He did a wonderful thing when he starved Gideon Gono of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe of all funds and stopped the Central Bank's practice of deducting money from the profits and revenue of mining companies and exporters.

Previously, Gideon Gono was the one who, through his ill-gotten funds at the Reserve Bank, bankrolled the operations of corrupt and inefficient government companies, even as these companies refused to submit accounts to parliament.

Air Zimbabwe was a huge beneficiary of Gono's quasi-fiscal operations, getting the lion's share of the money he disbursed. So it is not a coincidence that the airline stopped paying workers in the month that Tendai Biti took over as Finance Minister.

His no-nonsense approach meant that the airline, which was used to squandering its own revenue in the expectation of getting money for salaries from government, now had to sink or swim.

It is sinking.

Other parastatals (as government-owned companies are known) are also struggling, because they never ran themselves as businesses. They were dumping grounds for retired military men as well as ZANU PF loyalists who were rewarded with managerial and Board positions to keep them in the money while the country struggled.

This attitude is now catching up with them.

If need be, Biti should leave Air Zimbabwe to go bust and create room for professionally-run private airlines. That will teach all patronage beneficiaries that companies are not there simply to be milked, but to turn profits and benefit the country instead of being a drain on the taxpayers of Zimbabwe.


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