President Robert Mugabe last week came face-to-face with alleged gross mismanagement of public institutions after the Air Zimbabwe aircraft he intended to use for his trip to the Far East and to the funeral of Kim Jong-il, the venerated “Dear Leader” of reclusive North Korea, was grounded at Gatwick Airport.
Initially, American General Supplies (AGS), a US firm, which supplies the national airline with the bulk of its spares, impounded the Boeing 767-200ER at Gatwick Airport over a $1,5 million debt.
The government bailed out the national carrier paving way for release of the plane.
But informed sources told NewsDay despite the government bail-out, civil aviation authorities at Gatwick Airport reportedly refused to allow the Air Zimbabwe plane to leave as it had a defective landing gear (hydraulic) which they insisted should be fixed before departure thereby scuttling President Mugabe’s intended trip last Friday.
The sources said authorities also demanded the national airline provide an air navigation certificate, which was made available on Thursday.
The certificate specifies the rights and obligations of air navigation service providers, including compliance with the common requirements and non-discriminatory access to services for airspace users, with particular regard to safety.
The situation was compounded by the fact the other aircraft President Mugabe could have used on his trip to Asia, a B737-200 had no oxygen cylinders, hence the frenetic $1,5 million bailout of the struggling national carrier teetering on the brink of collapse.
According to government sources, President Mugabe was livid over the delay, and heads could roll.
Air Zimbabwe acting chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga yesterday confirmed the plane had returned, but said his organisation was still battling to clear other debts.
“The plane returned on Sunday morning. “There were no further disturbances and the plane left London on Saturday and landed at 6:10am the following day,” Mavhunga said.
Although Information minister Webster Shamu could not confirm whether President Mugabe had travelled to North Korea, he confirmed the President was on annual leave and travelling.
The leave is expected to last until the end of January.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba in a statement to the Press, said the Zanu PF leader will spend part of his annual leave in the Far East with his family.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru will be acting President in his absence.
President Mugabe, who now spends his annual leave in the Far East Asia, after being banned from travelling to Europe over allegations of electoral fraud and human rights abuses, reportedly left immediately after the return of the Air Zimbabwe aircraft.
The sources also said although the President had wanted to travel to North Korea, it could be too late now since burial of Kim Jong-il is today.
He is expected to visit Singapore and Malaysia, according to the sources.
The 87-year-old Zanu PF leader is a known supporter of North Korea, which trained the Zimbabwe National Army’s Fifth Brigade.
The Fifth Brigade was involved in the massacre of nearly 20 000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces during the dissident era.
Air Zimbwe has been making losses due to a number of reasons among them dilapidated equipment and high employment costs.
The airline has been saddled with relentless problems, among them staff strikes that forced the company to hire planes to take care of its travellers.
The firm is facing viability challenges with debts now believed to be over $140 million.
Its flights to Johannesburg were suspended last week, following claims management did not want to risk losing aircraft to Bid Air Services — a grounds handling firm — demanding payment of a $500 000 debt.