HARARE – Zimbabwe owes airlines about $196 million that’s stuck in the country due to a shortage of hard currency, according to the International Air Transport Association.
The last payment received by the industry body was in January, regional vice president for IATA in Africa, Muhammad Ali Albakri, said in an interview on Tuesday.
The group held a meeting with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa and will now finalize the payment plan, he added.
The country is struggling with shortages of foreign exchange including the U.S. dollar, which is needed to transfer the proceeds of local ticket sales to airlines.
Speaking soon after the meeting, IATA director-general Mr Alexandre de Juniac said they held a successful meeting with President Mnangagwa and senior Government officials on ways to improve the air transport system in the country.
“As you know we are representing the community of the airlines especially those servicing Zimbabwean route. We figured aviation as a key contributor to the prosperity of this country,” said Mr Juniac, who is also the CEO.
The two parties also discussed modalities on how the Government can clear its debt which currently stands at US$196 million for aviation services.
“We have a concern because our funds cannot be repatriated when you buy tickets to fly from or to Zimbabwe.
“The funds cannot be given back to the airlines so it’s a big concern to us and we asked for a meeting with key officials and the President, who has accepted to receive us and established a framework under which we will be able to find an agreement to solve the issue.
“We will find the appropriate solution by discussing and collaborating with the Zimbabwean Government and all the authorities,” said Mr Juniac.
He added that President Mnangagwa, who has been paying particular attention to their arguments, shares IATA’s view that aviation is central to economic development.
Mr Juniac described Zimbabwe as a safe tourist destination which requires an efficient air transport system, hence the need to boost the aviation sector.
“Zimbabwe is so rich, so open and so attractive to tourism and to business people; so it would be very negative and counter-productive if the airlines would be forced to reduce their frequency or reduce their service.
“We will find the appropriate solution to prevent this eventuality from happening and continue on the development path for aviation in Zimbabwe. That was the purpose of the meeting. We had a fruitful, open, frank and efficient constructive meeting to find the appropriate solution for both parties,” he added.
Mr Juniac said they have had similar situations of not getting their money in other countries, not only in Africa, but through strong discussions with governments and central banks, they have found appropriate solutions.
IATA believes the intervention of President Mnangagwa will help them get the US$196 million they are owed.
Mr Juniac said the figure could continue rising if no proper mechanism was found to stop its build-up, but believes President Mnangagwa’s commitment was encouraging.
“This has been a very constructive meeting chaired by His Excellency the President who made a big difference by his presence and his directives to the Honourable ministers to walk with IATA to find a solution to address this issue knowing how important aviation is to Zimbabwe, in particular, and also to Africa and the world over.
“At the end of the day, IATA cares a lot about Africa as a continent. We use aviation as an instrument for economic development for all the African nations.
“We are pretty optimistic that we will make it,” said Mr Juniac.
Mr Juniac is optimistic that Zimbabwe’s aviation will contribute immensely to the country’s economy.
He was accompanied by the company’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East Mr Muhammad Ali Albakri.