‘Mugabe doesn’t fly for free’

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Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Nicholas Goche has disclosed that President Robert Mugabe’s chartered Air Zimbabwe flights on both domestic and international trips were fully paid for by Treasury.

Goche told joint Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Transport and Infrastructural Development that contrary to reports that Mugabe was bleeding the national airline by travelling for free, the 88-year-old Zanu PF leader had all his trips paid for, sometimes in advance.

Goche had been called to Parliament to apprise the committee on government interventions to resuscitate the ailing airline.

“President Mugabe is the only one who has made Air Zimbabwe fly because he charters an aeroplane and he pays before flying,” said Goche.

“Even just last week he chartered an Air Zimbabwe aircraft to Bulawayo for the Council of Chiefs meeting and as for ministers, including myself, you find us on South African or British Airways,” he said.

Air Zimbabwe acting chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga later told NewsDay government owed the national airline huge sums of money for flights by MPs.

“I cannot really say how much government owes Air Zimbabwe, but most of the amount has to do with flights by MPs from Bulawayo to Harare,” he said.

Goche said the Air Zimbabwe debt currently stood at $150 million with $30 million being owed to foreigners and $120 million to banks and other parastatals like the Zimbabwe National Water Authority and National Social Security Authority, while China was owed $36 000 in fuel.

He said efforts to establish a partnership with Chinese investors Hainan in 2009 hit a snag after the Chinese complained of the huge Air Zimbabwe debt.

According to Goche, plans were also underway to resuscitate the airline so that it would become operational before the World Tourism Organisation General Assembly to be jointly hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in Victoria Falls next year.

“We need two long-haul aircraft — Airbus or Boeing — three regional aeroplanes, two or three domestic aeroplanes and one that is a 30 to 50-seater for routes like Victoria Falls,” Goche said.

He said government should consider underwriting Air Zimbabwe debts as a strategy to turn around its fortunes and creating a debt and stigma-free airline.

Other strategies were to look for a technical partner and to disband Air Zimbabwe with the National Handling Services, Air Zimbabwe Passenger Handling Services and Air Zimbabwe Technical Services and Cargo Services going on their own so that there was profitability.

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