Zim Airways: The untold story
Tichaona Zindoga Acting Editor
Former president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law, Mr Simba Chikore used his family ties to manipulate processes, corrupt people and enter into shady deals involving several stakeholders during his time at the national airliner, Air Zimbabwe, The Herald reveals today.
Mr Chikore, married to Bona Mugabe, was chief operating officer of the flag carrier between October 2016 and November 2017.
During the time, Mr Chikore controversially incorporated Zimbabwe Airways as an alternative, debt-free entity funded by Treasury. The new airline would be owned by an outfit known as Aeronautics Africa Trust registered on November 13, 2017.
The controversial new airline project was consummated by the undertaking to purchase four Boeing 777-200ER aircraft from the Malaysian government and six Embraer-145 aircraft from the United States of America but was saddled from the start with regulatory and technical issues that have seen the planes not flying the country’s flag aloft to this day, with efforts presently underway to salvage the situation.
Operationalisation of Zimbabwe Airways was equally murky, with millions being splurged to conduct daily business, including hiring of staff, without due process while service providers were engaged without going to tender.
The Herald is in possession of unimpeachable evidence of the rot at the national airline in the period between 2016 and 2017 with Mr Chikore, who was the de facto chief executive officer of the new airline.
Throughout his ill-fated tenure, Mr Chikore misrepresented himself as a captain while he was a first officer, which disqualified him from flying, which he did.
He resigned as the Chief Operating Officer following Operation Restore Legacy that swept aside his father-in-law’s lengthy rule.
Sources close to the developments catalogued the malfeasance and how Mr Chikore could have been involved in criminal enterprise. It has also emerged that he, in fact, did not have a contract with Zimbabwe Airways despite the fact that he called himself Chief Executive Officer.
Uncannily, he did not draw a salary from the entity.
“On the 17th of August 2017, Zimbabwe Airways received $1 million from the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) which, according to the business plan prepared by Baker, Tilly Chartered Accountants, was supposed to help set up the business for six months after which we were to start flying commercially and earning our revenue and the amount of $1 million would be paid back to the RBZ,” said one source.
“With the funds the company purchased furniture and office supplies, desktops, laptops, printers and televisions. The company also used the funds to pay salaries, rentals, security, construction of the airport offices as well as other operational costs. None of the services we engaged went to tender,” the source said.
According to information available, Zimbabwe Airways hired personnel and engaged service providers in the industry outside of Zimbabwe. Some of these service providers were Seabury Solutions Systems (a software company), SITA (a ticketing system vendor), Sigma Aviation Recruitment (to recruit expatriate post holders), Evers Consulting (to do the manuals required to apply for the Air Operators Certificate [AOC]).
Under unclear circumstances, Mr Chikore failed to register the airline for the AOC, which is conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, and the failure resulted in future losses as the airline was barred from flying to China and India where it had cargo.
“As the months went on, and we had hired personnel and expatriates, we still did not engage in the process of getting the AOC from the Civil Aviation Authority. The application process has five phases, and phase one states that the entity was to provide the name and credentials of the accountable officer.
“Simba was reluctant to do this. Firstly, he did not have a contract of employment from the company, and, secondly, his credentials stated that he was a first officer, not a captain as he had led all and sundry to believe. Therefore, months went by and he would not initiate the AOC application process.”
According to the source, when Zimbabwe Airways engaged airline insurer Gulf Regent for aircraft handling, health insurance and loss of licence insurance, he allegedly instructed the insurer to open an offshore account, in his name, for him in which any excess amounts would be paid into.
However, the company did not render the services, says their source.
“The employees never received health insurance despite the RBZ paying around $157 000 per quarter for health.
“In addition, the company did not employ any pilots so the Loss of Licence Insurance paid by the RBZ was merely another way in which Simba was externalising Government funds.”
The acquisition and subsequent return of the Malaysian planes underlines everything that was wrong with Mr Chikore’s mis-captaining of the airline as Zimbabwe simply did not have the resources, skills and other necessary infrastructure to operate the B777.
Zimbabwe lacked the necessary capabilities, namely trained engineers to maintain the 777, tooling, spares, hangar space and, of course, the Air Operator’s Certificate required to operate commercially.
Additionally, the 777 needed to have 100 hours of flying time a month to stay maintained, and also that it need to fly every seven days if it wasn’t operating, to keep up with its maintenance. A number of problems presented themselves.
Our sources said: “Zimbabwe did not have any engineers trained to maintain the 777, which meant that we would need to import engineers for this were the aircraft to be delivered to Zimbabwe.
“We did not have any trained pilots to fly the 777 in Zimbabwe, which would mean that we need to import pilots rated on the 777 to fly the aircraft every seven days.
“We did not have any hangar space, the only hangar that would fit the 777 was occupied by Air Zimbabwe’s 767 which is currently undergoing its C-check (a specialised maintenance system).
“We did not have any tools or spares for the 777 (and) we did not have an AOC that would allow for the requirement of the 100 hours a month of flight time required to keep the 777 in good condition.”
However, Mr Chikore reportedly disregarded wise counsel from engineers and, in fact, had not made enough preparations to receive the planes from Malaysia.
Eventually, a decision was made to return the aircraft following consultations between the Ministry of Transport and its legal team, CAAZ and Zimbabwe Airways.
“The minister conceded that he had been ill-advised regarding the aircraft and agreed that we return Z-RGM. The aircraft was returned on May 25,” said the source, adding that Mr Chikore was not consulted as he had travelled abroad.
Repeated efforts to get a comment from Mr Chikore were fruitless by last night.
Government is in the process of cleaning up the mess of Mr Chikore’s controversial tenure and has since disbanded Zim Airways.
Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Joel Biggie Matiza last night confirmed that Government was regularising acquisition of the planes.
“The Embrear is on its way, as we speak and will arrive in the next two weeks,” he said.
“Government has also authorised payments of the outstanding amounts,” he added.
Last month, Cabinet approved the regularisation of the acquisition of aircraft bought from Malaysia and make outstanding payments for the Embrear planes acquired in the US are brought to Zimbabwe.