GITEGA, 3 May 2021 – Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye has sacked his commerce minister over allegations that she embezzled airline funds.
Immaculee Ndabaneze is dismissed from her functions as minister of commerce, transport, industry, and tourism, the Burundian said in a statement.
According to the statement, Ndabaneze risked “compromising the country’s economy and the image of Burundi”. The statement provided no additional details.
News reports on Monday cited corroborating sources within the regime in Gitega as saying the minister was fired for the illegal sale of the last aircraft of the now-defunct Air Burundi and for allegedly embezzling funds meant for the country’s future flagship, Burundi Airlines.
Sources say the plane, a Beechcraft 1900 aged less than ten years, was sold to a South African businessman reportedly without government approval.
President Ndayishimiye has pledged to fight corruption since coming to power in June 2020.
Over the last three months, his administration has approved the dismissal of 119 municipal accountants and the country’s head of budget programming, allegedly for their role in embezzlement.
None of those sacked have faced charges before a court of law, lending credence to critics who say the firings are meant to be spectacular at best or as a smokescreen for doing away with those perceived as opponents of the regime.
Ndayishimiye promised last March not to prosecute anyone for corruption cases that date back beyond 19 June 2020, the day he was sworn in as president of Burundi.
He also publicly exonerated all senior officials from the constitutional obligation to declare their assets before getting into public office and upon exit of public service.
Observers wonder why there would be smoke in the cockpit between Burundi’s president and his transport minister, given that the last flight of Air Burundi was in 2009 and the accounts of the company were last audited in 2017 and certified as correct in 2018.
Air Burundi’s only plane was the Beechcraft 1900 which had reached the maximum flight hours before a major service was mandated.