First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has joined her husband in hiring pricey private jets – which cost taxpayers thousands of United States dollars.
The first lady returned home from Dubai on Tuesday last week aboard a private jet Airbus A318-112 (CJ) Elite chartered for her and her travelling party. She had gone to Dubai for a meeting hosted by the Merck Foundation for purposes of dealing with the stigmatisation of women with infertility problems. Ten other first ladies attended the meeting.
The first lady chartered the aircraft, registered as A6-CAS and operated by Constellation Aviation of Dubai. It spawned questions why she did not just hop into the first class cabin of a regularly scheduled Emirates flight operating between Dubai and Harare daily.
This comes as her husband, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is coming under sharp criticism from members of the public for the expensive practice. Apparently, the plane chartered by the first lady is the same aircraft flown into Harare a fortnight ago to fly her husband from Harare to Bulawayo, a trip the president could have embarked on using a military Mil Mi Russian-built Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter.
Reached for comment, deputy Information minister Energy Mutodi said: “What the first lady does is her own private business. She is a free citizen, free to travel and do as she pleases. The public and media should leave the first family alone on their private business; it has nothing to do with the State or government.”
Mnangagwa has defended his penchant for big-ticket private planes, with his spin-doctors saying it was the only mode of transport that could easily accommodate his busy schedule. Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba brushed off criticism of his boss’ excessive foreign travel as trivia.
Charamba said Mnangagwa is not so much fond of flying but is rather working around the clock to restore the country’s lost glory.
Since coming to power in November 2017, Mnangagwa has travelled over 25 trips.
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.
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.
Charter companies, which the first lady is now also using, charge for flights on an hourly basis, based on what they call Total Time, which is basically the period during which an aeroplane flies with actual passengers other than just the crew.
Nonetheless, his immoderate expenditure, including his wife’s now, is ironic given his government’s austerity mantra.
While the rest of Mnangagwa’s Cabinet use commercial flights, government now has to grapple with the new cost of the first lady’s travel that now attracts competitive charter rates.