By Benjamin Manzini
At a time when Finance minister Mthuli Ncube is implementing austerity measures that have only brought more suffering to ordinary Zimbabweans, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is behaving as if he is from another planet.
Last week, our esteemed president and commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces embarked on another expensive junket – this time to Addis Ababa (the Ethiopian capital) for the African Union Summit which, too all intents and purposes, was a non-event.
At the expense of the already over-burdened taxpayer, the country’s first citizen felt the need to hire another expensive wide body private jet for his latest escapade.
This time around, his Excellency decided to travel to the horn of Africa for that “important summit” of continental leaders in ultra-luxury.
Barely a fortnight after critics cried foul over the exorbitant price of fuel which he hiked by 150 percent before he left on a tour of Eastern Europe, the country’s chief executive officer was at it again recently.
He hired a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) – the Boeing 767-200ER – which is similar in technical specifications to that of the national airline (Air Zimbabwe) only without the luxurious bells, whistles and amenities.
Comlux, the aviation company that owns this jet, is based in Zurich, Switzerland with numerous hubs in Moscow, Aruba, Kazakhstan and Bahrain.
This particular jet is based in the Caribbean island of Aruba and cost up to US$50000 per hour to fly.
At this big-budget price, it cost US$216,666 for Mnangagwa’s bloated delegation to fly to the East African country in four hours, 20 minute to attend the AU Summit.
On average, we are looking at US$833.33 per minute to fly the jet.
Considering that the average income of a nurse in Zimbabwe is a mere $500 in local fictitious pseudo currency which is the Real Time Gross Settlement that is nowhere equivalent to the 1;1 exchange rate selfishly, and arrogantly boasted by government, Mnangagwa should have gone for an affordable plane.
At today’s salaries, about 900 nurses could have received their 13th cheque from the money that could have been save on this round trip flight in my fantasy world.
If luxury and class were the premise of this extravagant trip, government should have purchased the entire business class section of the Eastern African country’s national airline that operates a Boeing 777-300ER and only spent US$1457 per passenger.
Remember, not so long ago, the president basically thumbed his nose at his fellow citizens by hiring a luxurious Boeing 787 Dreamliner from a Vietnamese Aviation company at an extortionate cost of US$70000 per hour to fly to Eastern Europe a day after announcing the most expensive fuel price in the world to the nation.
So much for the austerity for prosperity mantra which has impoverished and bankrupted only those without power: Could it be that the two percent tax introduced in October last year on all electronic transactions above $10 was a way of fundraising for these lavish trips?
Certainly, there is no austerity in flying a BBJ from Aruba for a four hour journey. Spending big on luxuries and not considering its implications is unwise and ill advised.
Tanzanian President John Pombe Mugufuli – a mere three years ago – decided to embark on not so popular austerity measures on his cabinet and himself in an effort to curb government expenditure.
He has been flying on commercial flights when traveling to other nations on state visits and only he would booked in business class on long haul flights with an aid or two whereas the rest of his team would fly in economy class or the main cabin to be politically correct.
The austerity measures implemented by the Tanzanian president have released more resources into critical areas that need funding.
These additional resources have helped in the reestablishment of Air Tanzania which recently acquired the modern wide body Boeing 787 aircraft for its long haul flights and as well as the ultra-new Airbus 220 for its short to medium range routes.
These acquisitions have enabled the national airline of Tanzania to be competitive in a cutthroat industry by minimizing operational costs through fuel efficiency and lesser maintenance costs in its modern fleet something our government should have taken notes from instead of buying retired aircraft from Asia.
In our case, the entire presidential entourage thrives on VVIP travel at the expense of the taxpayer.
While in spin, one may argue that this flight was paid for by well-wishers. But then again, are there no better areas to direct these resources?
Down south, President Cyril Ramaphosa shocked South African Airways staff last year when he flew to Kigali, Rwanda in economy class on a regularly scheduled flight, though on this last summit he flew the South African Airways VIP Boeing 737 -300 Ikwezi.
While in Addis Ababa, Mnangagwa was at the forefront of an alleged deal that would rope in Ethiopian Airlines to partner with Air Zimbabwe. My million dollar question is what are the conditions of this alleged deal? What does Ethiopian Airlines stand to gain from it? Since when does a sitting president sign a deal with an airline on behalf of the national flag carrier without the minister of Transport or representatives of the airline at the forefront?
We acknowledge the existing ties between our airlines.
Air Zimbabwe pilots were trained at Ethiopian Airlines’ Addis Ababa hub for their ab-initio through to Commercial pilot’s licence. Also, Ethiopia already has the Addis to Harare route twice a day and the Addis to Gaborone via Victoria Falls.
But it has not been all rosy.
At present the central bank owes Ethiopian Airlines $18 million in ticket remittances.
Although a partnership is always welcome, I am very curious about the Ethiopians’ motives in this partnership for Air Zimbabwe is drowning in debt and it will take a new investor to turn it around.
I fear, however, that the only thing Ethiopian Airlines would want to do is swallow Air Zimbabwe and move towards creating a monopoly in southern Africa unless Zimbabwe plucks a leaf from the Malawians.
In 2014, Malawian Airlines (formerly Air Malawi) went into partnership with Ethiopian Airlines on 51 percent to 49 percent shareholding, with the government of Malawi taking the bigger piece of the pie.
This is how it should be.
But the Ethiopians must also be extremely worried about the amount of spin surrounding Air Zimbabwe.
From all we know, only two of the former Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 have been officially acquired by the Zimbabwe government to date instead of the four which state media has been peddling in the press.
Anyway, this is a story for another day. Daily News