The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is steering clear of a suspected multi-million illegal deal involving a new airline, Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways), which is linked to former president Robert Mugabe’s family, amid fresh evidence of lies by government officials and their associates.
By RICHARD CHIDZA
Government reportedly established ZimAirways six years ago as a parallel airline to Air Zimbabwe (AirZim), a public enterprise that was inherited from the colonial Rhodesian government at independence in 1980, but has been facing severe financial and operational problems for more than a decade.
The new airline largely remained on paper through the tenure of two transport ministers —Nicholas Goche and Obert Mpofu, respectively — only to become a public controversy after the current minister, Joram Gumbo, took over in 2015.
Gumbo’s anchor plan was to get ZimAirways operating as a supplementary entity to AirZim under the guise that it was a private concern and leasing planes to the national carrier to avoid seizure of its aircraft by international institutions and groups of evicted white farmers who the Zimbabwean government owes millions of dollars.
ZimAirways is renting offices at a property owned by Gumbo’s niece, Mavis, in Gletwyn, a plush northern suburb in the capital.
There was an outcry over the lease of the property to AirZim amid accusations of nepotism, but a bigger controversy surrounding the airline has evolved around the purchase of four planes worth $70 million from Malaysia with the direct involvement of Mugabe, who set off negotiations with his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, in 2016.
According to Gumbo, the used Boeing 777-200-ER planes, which were purchased with the help of Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, a pilot who was working as the AirZim chief operating officer at that time but resigned late last year, were initially supposed to replenish the ailing airline.
However, he claims, there was a change of plans after realising that the planes would be seized on international flights, hence the decision to re-route them to ZimAirways through another government entity, Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (Zalc) that was also reportedly set up in 2012.
At one time, Gumbo claimed the decommissioned planes were bought for ZimAirways by a consortium of Zimbabweans living and working in the diaspora, but of late, he and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa are insisting that they are government property belonging to the new entity, which they say is also a public enterprise.
There have been loud calls from aviation experts, politicians, civil society and citizens to investigate the deal amid suspicions that the new airline was meant to benefit the Mugabe family and its close associates prior to the November 2017 military coup that ushered in a new administration led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Investigations by The Standard, working in collaboration with the Information for Development Trust (IDT), have unearthed a deliberate plot by Gumbo and connected individuals to mislead the nation on the tenancy of ZimAirways and Zalc
The minister denied any nepotism in the fact that his niece, Mavis, is Zalc’s and ZimAirways’ landlord, claiming that the two went through an estate agent in a manner that was above board.
“Mavis is my niece. She has her house and she wanted to lease it out through estate agents. The ZimAirways guys stumbled on the house without her or my knowledge and they liked it. It was a purely business deal,” Gumbo told The Standard.
Mavis claimed in a brief interview that the two entities got the lease through an estate agent called Letbill Realty, but checks revealed that this was false.
Letbill Realty folded in 2017 upon the death of one of its directors and a surviving co-director, Clemence Chidziva, confirmed this.
Chidziva dismissed claims that their now-defunct agency had facilitated the lease of Mavis’s property to ZimAirways and Zalc.
The only time the real estate company had dealt with Mavis was some years ago when she sought to sell a different property, but the deal did not materialise.
“We closed the business and are not collecting any management fees from any property as we speak,” Chidziva said.
“We briefly dealt with Mavis Gumbo many years ago when she wanted to sell one of her properties along Enterprise Road (Harare). The deal fell through and that’s all I remember.”
He said he had never dealt with ZimAirways or their representatives in any way.
Mavis, who has been largely media-shy on the purported lease agreement, refused to shed more light on the deal with ZimAirways and Zalc.
Even though Gumbo says both ZimAirways and Zalc were formed in 2012, the available paper trail shows that they were incorporated only last year.
The ZimAirways file has mysteriously disappeared from the Registrar of Companies’ records, but the CR14 company registration form obtained during investigations lists three top civil servants and a local lawyer as the directors.
They were appointed on January 18, 2017, according to the document, some five years after the initial establishment of ZimAirways.
Andrew Ndaamunhu Bvumbe, who has since resigned, Angeline Karonga (Transport ministry legal advisor), Mufaro Eric Gumbie (ministry principal director) and Anne Farirayi Mutswiri, who works at Matsikidze and Mucheche legal practitioners, are listed as directors of the company. Intriguingly, Mutswiri said she had no idea why she is listed as a director.
“That cannot be, I think it’s incorrect. If my name appears it is possibly because we did some work for ZimAirways, but I do not work for them,” she said.
Documents show that Matsikidze and Mucheche legal practitioners presented ZimAirways’ papers for filling at the Companies Registry.
More mystery surrounds the registration of Zalc.
The certificate of incorporation for Zalc numbered 4069/2017 shows that the company was registered by the Registrar of Companies on June 22 last year.
Its directors are named as Phillipa Phillips, Phillips Law and Dacyl-Ray Rambanepasi.
The first two’s given address is Suite 100, Sanlam Centre, Newlands in Harare, while Rambanepasi’s is Number 6, Bray Close, Greystone Park, Borrowdale in Harare.
Gumbo maintains that directors of both Zalc and ZimAirways are government employees but the leasing company directors, like Mutswiri, are private individuals.
According to a statement jointly issued by Chinamasa and Gumbo recently, Air Zimbabwe approached the State Procurement Board (SPB) seeking authority to purchase the four Boeing 777 second-hand planes.
“In November 2016, the SPB under BPR 1067B approved Air Zimbabwe’s request to purchase the four Boeing 777 planes from Malaysia.
“Government, through the ministry of Finance and Economic Development, took a decision to secure funding for the procurement of the four planes together with eight Embraer aircraft, which would be used as feeder planes,” reads the statement.
However, the SPB approval of the purchase was a rubber stamp.
In an interview, Gumbo indicated that the decision to buy the planes was made hastily when his team travelled to Malaysia with Mugabe, who was on his way to Singapore for treatment.
Mugabe, Gumbo said, engaged the Malaysian leader Razak and introduced the transport minister.
At that stage, the Malaysian PM said they couldn’t enter into a partnership with AirZim on whose behalf the Zimbabwean team was negotiating.
Instead, he offered to sell four decommissioned planes to them, and the Zimbabwean delegation promptly took up the offer of $70 million.
The delegation negotiated with the London-based PriceWaterhouseCoopers which was acting on behalf of the Malaysian government, and the Zimbabwean team quickly wrote a letter of intent to buy the planes after agreeing on the $70 million price.
That means Gumbo’s team returned home with a deal already in the bag and processes that followed were mere formalities, in violation of tendering regulations.
Former Transport secretary Munesu Munodawafa was excluded from the Malaysian deal under unclear circumstances.
“I was never involved in any negotiations with Malaysia Airlines (the owners of the planes). Beyond that, I have no comment,” he said.
Instead, Gumbo jointly signed the deal with former Mines minister Walter Chidakwa.
It was not clear how Chidakwa, who was removed from his post after Mugabe’s forced exit, got involved in the deal.
He is closely related to Grace Mugabe, the ex-first lady, through marriage.
Gumbo, on the other hand, is related to Mugabe’s late mother, Bona.
He has been linked to Mnangagwa, but, according to sources, has also maintained close ties with Mugabe, and Chikore is reported to be a regular visitor at his office.
Gumbo’s close involvement in operational issues at ZimAirways has generated discomfort among his critics.
He described himself as a “consultant” in the deal, but was quick to point out that, like Chikore, he did not receive extra payment for his role.
The SPB has been replaced by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe after recurrent complaints of corruption over the years.
Its acting CEO Nyasha Chizu, in response to questions from The Standard, defended the Boeing purchase deal, which he said was done in accordance with the repealed Procurement Regulations Statutory Instrument 171 of 2002.
“Any direct procurement required that the accounting officer be cleared by the State Procurement Board before contract.
“As reported in other media, it is a fact that the procurement of 4 x Boeing 777s was cleared by the State Procurement Board at their meeting No. 84 of 2016 on 17 November 2016,” he said.
“The accounting officer, before the clearance, was requested to clarify issues relating to costs, life span and spare parts.
“The submission by the accounting officer was then found to be reasonable by the State Procurement Board.”
The request for the purchase of planes involved the ministry and Air Zimbabwe, he said, but did not shed light on whether the SPB requested for information on other suitors for a fair award of the tender or whether it was being treated as a special case.
He admitted that the SPB was “not privy to the finer details of the agreement of sale” with Air Malaysia, since “the role of the SPB back then was limited to the award of contracts”.
While Chikore did not avail himself for an interview despite numerous attempts. he is on record saying he did not benefit personally from the ZimAirways deal.
Gumbo told The Standard that he advised Chikore to resign from his post at AirZim in September 2017 in order to take up more roles in setting up ZimAirways.
Chikore raised eyebrows recently when he flew in the first Boeing 777 bought from Malaysia and registered as Z-RGM as a full pilot even though aviation experts maintain he is still junior.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe [RBZ] governor John Mangudya added more confusion to the unfolding mystery regarding the purchase of the planes.
Gumbo, who has revealed that Mangudya is the ZimAirways trustee, is on record saying the governor directly facilitated payment of at least $45 million for the four Boeings.
However, Mangudya said: “The RBZ does not process commercial transactions. You may, therefore, wish to contact the relevant authorities or the sources of your information for the details that you need on your inquiry.”
Gumbo shockingly claimed that, by 2016, government had removed AirZim from its books and replaced it with ZimAirways.
“According to government books, there was no longer Air Zimbabwe. Instead there was ZimAirways.”
Contrary to that, AirZim has never ceased to operate, constantly flying Mugabe and other officials to regional and international destinations in addition to servicing domestic routes.
Former finance minister Tendai Biti said the ZimAirways deals might have breached a litany of the country’s procurement regulations and laws as well as the constitution.
“We never saw any advertisement to the effect that Air Zimbabwe wanted to lease any planes and the government never invited bids for the lease of the planes, but the procurement regulations require that,” he said.
“If it is correct that government made a payment for the planes, then Parliament needed to be involved.
“All government payments are from the Consolidated Revenue Fund whose custodian is the legislature and I do not think Parliament was ever asked to approve this deal
“This means Gumbo is in breach of sections 303, 304 and 305 of the constitution relating to state expenditure.
“Government could seek condonation from Parliament under section 307 of the constitution, but this has not happened either.”
Biti called on Parliament to investigate the deal, but the legislature has been folding its arms.
Former parliamentary committee on transport chairperson Dexter Nduna said the legislature had adopted a “wait-and-see attitude” over the developing scandal.
Nduna was reportedly removed as chairperson after numerous clashes with Gumbo over investigations by the committee in most parastatals under the minister’s purview.
Zacc has decided to watch the unfolding scandal from the terraces despite swelling allegations of nepotism, fraud and violation of public procurement procedures.
“Zacc has not received any report with regard to the ZimAirways (sic) and neither do we know of the existence of such a company.
“Zacc advises you to check with the Ministry of Transport for more information,” said commission spokesperson Phylis Chikundura.
The constitution and the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, however, do not limit Zacc to being a passive recipient of graft-related reports.
Section 12 (a) of the Act provides that the commission shall “monitor and examine the practices, systems and procurement procedures of public and private institutions”,
while, under subsection (f), it must “investigate any conduct of any person whom the commission has reason to believe is connected with activities involving corruption”.
In the past, Zacc has avoided probing politically-sensitive cases and stands accused of working on orders from the elite.
*This article was originally published by our media partner, the Standard (Zimbabwe)