via email by Jan Raath 27 January 2014
Zimbabwe’s debt-strangled airline, Air Zimbabwe, has been plunged into fresh crisis with revelations that top executives defrauded the state-run company in an insurance scam that cost it about US$7 million.
The airline’s planes are routinely used by President Mugabe as his personal carriers when he travels abroad. At one point, the aircraft flew for two months without insurance, according to details of an audit published here yesterday (Mon., Jan. 27).
It said Air Zimbabwe company secretary Grace Fumbidzayi “unprocedurally and illegally” broke a contract of over 50 years with one of the world’s top insurance brokers, Marsh Insurance, and replaced it with a local company. The charges immediately went up tenfold.
The auditors discovered the fraud just before another US$1.8 million was due to be paid to the insurance company. Suspicions were aroused when the airline’s acting chief executive Peter Mavhunga tried to claim US$800,000 as a “premium.” There was no answer to any of Navistar’s telephones yesterday.
The disclosure was the third in as many weeks of shocking corruption in the country’s state-owned businesses, nearly every one bankrupt, dysfunctional and leeching millions from the government’s stricken fiscus every month.
The first scandal was of the chief executive of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which hasn’t paid its staff for six months. Mr Happison Muchechetere paid himself US$40,000 a month, unlimited vehicle fuel and five international flights for him and his family each year.
But it was chaff compared with Mr Cuthbert Dube, the chairman of the board of the government-owned medical aid fund, which owes US$38 million and cannot pay the claims of its 600,000 members, most of them civil servants, soldiers and police. Mr Dube awards himself US$230,000 a month, and slightly less for his chief executive.
Intriguingly, the revelations have been made in the daily Herald newspaper, the main propaganda organ for Mr Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party which has consistently suppressed reports of chicanery among the administrators who run the government.
The newspaper regularly takes instructions from Mr Mugabe’s ministers and top officials. “It’s almost certain that all the documentation was fed to the paper by the ministers,” said a Western diplomat.
No arrests have been reported.
The motivation is believed to be political assassination rather than a new mood of upright governance. But the detailed display of greed among Mr Mugabe’s officials can only serve to deepen resentment against his rule.