President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s penchant for travelling in state-of-the-art airplanes has come at a huge cost to the taxpayer, thus undermining his government’s ‘austerity for prosperity’ mantra.
Since coming to power in November 2017, Mnangagwa has travelled over 25 trips.
In nearly 16 months, he has been to countries such as Russia, Rwanda, Belarus, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Switzerland, Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Ethiopia, Botswana, Mozambique, Mauritania, Tanzania, Botswana, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China, among others.
A look into Mnangagwa’s travel since he became president gives a picture of his extravagant expenditure.
His office has been chartering the Comlux Boeing 767-200ER (Boeing Business Jet or BBJ), which charges in the region of US$50 000 per hour in flight time.
On average, the trips are about five hours per leg for his foreign trips on these large VIP jets.
When he travelled to Eurasia recently, Mnangagwa chartered the Boeing 787 Dreamliner VIP jet from Deer Jet and Asian VIP Charter Company.
Charter companies charge for flights on an hourly basis, based on what they call Total Time, which is basically the period during which an aero-plane flies with actual passengers other than just the crew.
There are also Repositioning legs, which is the flight time to and from pick up and or drop off airports without passengers.
There are also Short legs, which refer to time allotted by the individual operator for any given leg, as well as Taxi Time, which is the amount of time on the ground before each take off and after landing.
In just basic flight time, Mnangagwa’s trips have cost the taxpayer a whopping $6,68 million, without factoring in the operator’s charges to ferry the president in Zimbabwe.
This figure is for only 22 hours flight time to Europe round-trip at a rate of $74 000 per hour.
Include his travel in Africa, and East Asia, his bill can easily hit jaw-dropping figures considering that Mnangagwa’s other trips across the world constitute about 90 hours at $50 000 per hour.
His travel is, however, said to be sponsored by some wealthy businesspeople in Zimbabwe, and handled by Mary Chiwenga, the wife of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
Nonetheless, his immoderate expenditure is ironic.
Last year, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced some stringent measures aimed at reducing government expenditure.
Among some of the measures introduced to curtail spending being a five percent salary cut for the president, his deputies, top government officials and parastatal bosses.
The measures also included retiring all civil servants above 65 years of age and retrenching over 3 000 youth officers.
Earlier in October last year, Ncube introduced a two percent tax on every electronic transaction between $10 and $10 000 to fund government costs.
Observers argue that while these measures are noble, they are going to waste owing to Mnangagwa’s insatiable desire to travel large.
Analysts canvassed by the Daily News on Sunday said government’s runaway spending could at least be reduced if the president uses local airlines and channels the money to depleted hospitals and schools.
The health sector in the country has virtually been destroyed by years of plunder and corruption with the government failing to revitalise the sector.
It is therefore being argued that the President’s Office could save a lot of money by making use of commercial flights and redirecting the savings towards critical areas of education, health and providing safety nets to the poor.
Rashweat Mukundu, an analyst, said the sad part about Mnangagwa’s continued hiring of expensive jets on his many trips outside the country is a clear indication of his lack of faith and belief in the austerity measures that government is pushing on citizens.
Mukundu sees a consistent message from him that economic recovery is going to be hard and that the public must tighten its belts, but does not see the tightening of belts from him and his government.
“…this is a clear indication that there is a lack of prioritisation of key issues that he needs to address. We even noticed that this hiring of expensive jets is coming at a time when the health sector is struggling, we have had strikes from doctors, nurses, there is a threat of strike from civil servants, the government cannot afford to meet some of the basic needs of the people, yet we are wasting so much money on these foreign trips on very expensive and luxurious jets,” said Mukundu.
“We have seen the president of Tanzania John Magufuli travelling on Air Tanzania, last year we saw South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa travelling on South African Airways, the president of Malawi travels on Malawi Airlines and we wonder why our own president cannot cut this huge burdensome cost of hiring all these expensive jets by travelling with commercial airlines”. Pessimists believe the measures were actually meant to hoodwink the general suffering public, while those in high offices continue to live opulent lives, albeit in a sea of poverty.
Mnangagwa has failed to take a leaf from his African counterparts such as Magufuli.
Three years ago, Magufuli decided to embark on not so popular austerity measures in an effort to curb government expenditure by flying on commercial flights when traveling to other nations on State visits.
He would only book 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.
The austerity measures that were implemented by Magafuli have created funding that helped in the re-establishment 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.
This same formula can be used to resuscitate the moribund Air Zimbabwe, if the money is not decided to be used in more important issues of education and health.
MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said the powers-that-be have a parasitic relationship with the Zimbabwean taxpayer whereby in typical vampire State-style they suck the life out of Zimbabweans.
He said the problem is that Mnangagwa is seeing the presidency as a reward for his personal struggles to get there.
“He is seeing it as a culmination of his personal goals. He is there to fulfil all the desires that he wanted to achieve when he was not yet president and those desires were to visit as many countries as possible, probably eat as much food as possible, wear as many suits as possible, drive as many cars as possible, make his family rich and probably his friends,” he said.
“It is never about serving the people, it is never about doing work, it is never about uplifting the lives of Zimbabweans. If anything, anything that uplifts the life of Zimbabweans and does not make him richer, it is quickly abandoned.
“They are no longer looking at what Zimbabweans need, but they are looking for what they need, so they are now driving in better cars, getting into better aeroplanes, getting into better houses.”