Oliver Kazunga/Natasha Chamba, Business Reporters
GOVERNMENT will this week float a tender for Air Zimbabwe seeking an investor to turnaround the fortunes of the troubled national airline.
Speaking at the just ended 2019 pre-budget seminar in Bulawayo on Friday, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza said following recommendations for Government to assume Air Zimbabwe’s debt amounting to $377 million, it is hoped that this would pave way for attracting a strategic partner.
“This (debt assumption by Government), as recommended by the committee (Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development), will give a competitive advantage to the airline as it seeks to engage a partner.
“I intend to go to tender this coming (this) week to seek an investor for the airline,” he said.
Of late, Air Zimbabwe has been struggling to service its domestic and regional routes with passengers increasingly experiencing flight delays and cancellations attributed to operational constraints.
Last week, Air Zimbabwe announced flight disruptions from Monday, November 5 with normal schedules expected to resume today. This has triggered an outcry among passengers who have been left stranded at local and regional airports due to the flight delays and cancellations. A senior Air Zimbabwe official apologised to customers.
“The airline at the current moment is facing some challenges but we are trying to fix them as fast as we can. The affected passengers will be given alternative travel at no costs as the airline will be charged and not them,” said the official.
“Although there are limitations in terms of compensating our passengers we will try by all means to make sure all of our clients are catered for.”
Minister Matiza said engagements were already underway to warehouse the Air Zimbabwe debt as Cabinet has approved the debt warehousing proposal. What remains of the debt warehousing, he said, were deliberations on modalities.
“Currently, the debt is at $377 million. Of this debt, however, $35 million is foreign and $260 million is Government and State enterprises. I have engaged my counterpart, Honourable (Mthuli) Ncube and recommendations are that some of the debt could be converted to equity since it is partly owed to Government and State enterprises,” said Minister Matiza.
Due to the challenges bedevilling Air Zimbabwe, it has been put under reconstruction with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development recommending that its relationship with Zimbabwe Airways should be clear as well as their ownership status to ensure the process of merging the two entities was transparent.
The formation of Zimbabwe Airways was as a result of the challenges at Air Zimbabwe and the need for the Government to acquire new aircraft.
Zimbabwe Airways was used by the Government to acquire the four B777 aircraft in Malaysia.
“Government is working towards merging the two by dissolving Zimbabwe Airways and transfer all assets to Air Zimbabwe. Efforts are already underway to reconstruct and resuscitate Air Zimbabwe,” said Minister Matiza.
Meanwhile, the committee has recommended after deliberations that Air Zimbabwe should be considered a forex earner and allowed to charge in foreign currency for regional and international routes.
“The Ministry has already started engagement with the relevant offices. On October 31, 2018, I presented a paper before Cabinet on the same and have proceeded to engage my counterpart, the Minister of Finance on November 6, 2018.
“He has indicated that he will engage the Governor of the Reserve Bank on the same. We wait the response,” Minister Matiza said.