The recruitment process to fill the position of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) chief has ignited a wave of scrutiny, triggering protests and garnering widespread disapproval from local and international stakeholders within the aviation sector.

MakanDay's investigation has uncovered a selection process shrouded in controversy, further overshadowing the appointment that comes in the wake of Gabriel Lesa's contract not being extended. The unfolding events have cast a shadow of doubt over the suitability and transparency of the entire process.

On March 30, 2023, the position of Director General (DG) became vacant as Lesa's contract expired. Consequently, Mulonda Mulonda, the Director of Flight Safety Standards, was appointed to act as interim DG starting from April 1, 2023.

“The acting DG has brought sanity and hope to the CAA and the morale among the staff is very high,” a senior officer said of the new appointment.

The board’s decision to advertise the position less than six months into Mulonda’s acting role has caught some of the officers off guard.

The officers are raising concerns about the board's sense of urgency in recruiting the DG within a short timeframe. Furthermore, they accuse the board of appointing individuals they deem as "inappropriate" to oversee the recruitment process.

One of them informed MakanDay that the intention behind this move was to marginalise Mulonda, as he possesses the necessary expertise to effectively oversee the authority.

"Can you imagine that some junior officers are involved in shortlisting names of candidates?" Asked one of the officers.

Asked to comment on the concerns raised by the CAA officers, board chairperson, Dr Patrick Nkhoma, declined to disclose his position on the matter, citing its sensitivity for discussion in the press.

Mulonda’s previous bid for the top position

Mulonda has an extensive experience working in the aviation sector, including the former Zambia Airways. He left the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) after landing a lucrative appointment at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. The DCA was the for erunnerof the current CAA. He had also made an attempt at the director general position when it was advertised in2014. He was shortlisted and interviewed but the position went to Lesa.

While the board holds the responsibility of recruiting the Director General, critics argue in favour of the Public Service Management Division (PSMD), a government institution under the Office of the President that is specifically tasked with overseeing human resource management in the Public Service. They believe that the PSMD should handle the recruitment process instead.

The advertisement for the position was published in the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper on June 6, 2023, and remained active for three days. Following the application period, the candidates were shortlisted on June 19th and 23rd, 2023.

The previous storm

At the inception of the CAA in 2013, replacing the former Department of Civil Aviation, Lesa was appointed as the acting director, transitioning from his previous role at National Airports. Subsequently, Lesa assumed the position of Director General within the CAA.

However, even Lesa’s impending appointment as the inaugural Chief of the CAA encountered vehement opposition from certain employees who accused him of lacking experience and serving the interests of a specific group within the industry.

In response to his critics then, Lesa defended himself in the Bulletin and Record, asserting that he possessed the requisite skills and capabilities to make valuable contributions to the progress of Zambia's aviation sector.

Is there a covert political influence?

Moreover, there are growing concerns regarding the alleged covert political influence that may be manipulating the decision-making process through the board, leading to raised eyebrows. However, it is important to note that MakanDay's investigation has not substantiated any direct political involvement in the process thus far.

Neither the Minister of Transport and Logistics, Frank Tayali, nor the Secretary to the Cabinet, Patrick Kangwa, who have been approached for comment, have responded yet.

The CAA serves as the regulatory body for civil aviation in Zambia. As a member of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), it is mandated that aviation regulatory institutions operate autonomously, free from political interference, in order to conduct impartial inspections, audits, and provide comprehensive safety measures. Unfortunately, Zambia fell short of complying with ICAO's aviation practices, leading to the country's blacklisting by the European Union in 2009.

Additional reporting by Linda Soko Tembo

Photo: CAA website