Can the Zimbabwean government afford to bail out Air Zimbabwe?

The NewsDay on Wednesday 9 March 2012 carried a front page article which indicated that Government could assume Air Zimbabwe's staggering $140 million debt, which has seen the beleaguered national airline struggling to recapitalize operations over the past two years. The statement was made by State Enterprises Restructuring Agency Executive Director, Edgar Nyoni while explaining the agency's 2012 strategy to resuscitate ailing parastatals to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on State Enterprises and Parastatals.

What is questionable about this decision is whether the inclusive government with its fair share of challenges, chief among them, its failure to adequately remunerate civil servants, can actually bail out the national airliner. Like most parastatals in the country, the airliner is a victim of incessant corruption and mismanagement resulting from the lack of accountable and transparent operations and is battling imminent industrial action by its employees. Moreover, the patronage system nurtured over the past 31 years by the Mugabe regime is coming to haunt Air Zimbabwe and other parastatals which are on the brink of collapse such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA). Since independence, top ZANU PF officials and military personnel flagrantly looted parastatals, sucking the life out of them.   As usual, ordinary citizens have carried the burden of recapitalizing run down parastatals such as ZESA and if government assumes the Air Zimbabwe debt.  Tax payers will be forced to sacrifice their hard earned money to 'pay for the sins of a few selfish individuals who have over the years enriched themselves through mismanagement of state resources  and corruption   .

Since its formation, government has pledged to reform parastatals and to establish a clear recovery plan for the state enterprises. The current state of virtually all parastatals remains unacceptably appalling. Besides being under-capitalized, the parastatals have immensely accumulated debt and suffered massive brain drain as a result of failing to effectively remunerate  employees.

Surely Mahatma Gandhi's lessons many years ago are instructive here in Zimbabwe and they are applicable to what Zimbabwe is going through today. Gandhi warned against what he called seven social sins, namely politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice.

The seven social sins by the late Gandhi capture very well the state of our socio-economic and political affairs today. Zimbabwe is making international news headlines for the wrong reasons. Once envied and revered for being the breadbasket of Africa, the country is now a laughing stock for being an empty basket case and experiencing one of the worst political and economic crisis because of man-made disasters.

We have suddenly been overcome by the triumph of materialism which has caused the illness of the spirit. Corruption has become the ocean that we swim in and the air we breathe. It is difficult to separate right from wrong because those who wield power can get away with criminal conduct without reprimand. Political office has since become a talisman for doing wrong with impunity, a passport for looting without jail, and a vehicle for vice without corrective action. Mugabe has been strategically positioning his functionaries including former and serving military personnel in positions of authority within state institutions to appease them and to maintain his 32 year hold on power.

The inclusive government and the Anti-Corruption Commission should hunt down corrupt officials who robbed state institutions and bring them before the courts regardless of financial status and political affiliation. Zimbabweans cannot continue shouldering the burdens of  greedy individuals who benefitted from a corrupt system. In addition, government should find lasting solutions to the recapitalization of state institutions as opposed to bailing them out. The future of Zimbabwe depends not only on the much talked about new constitution but a cultural transformation vis-à-vis good governance and corruption. This is because government cannot legislate behaviours but can only educate people about the appropriate conduct in society, political office and business circles. If people's attitudes towards greed for power and wealth, plunder and profligacy don't change, the new constitution and any other reforms may be good on paper only and may never change the situation in the country.

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