By Sean Tembo
1. As Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP), we have noted with interest the ongoing raging debate on the Presidential Jet. From the time that this Gulf-stream G650 aircraft was purchased a few years ago, we have been strongly opposed to the decision. However, our basis for opposing the procurement of the aircraft is premised on the fact that a more affordable aircraft such as an ATR or Bombardier could have been purchased by ZAF for use by the President, as opposed to purchasing a top-of-the-range brand and model. For example, the Government of Botswana recently purchased a brand new ATR 72 for use by the President for about US$22 million, and the Government of Angola recently purchased a brand new Presidential Bombardier Global 500 for US19 million. The Gulf-stream G650 that the Zambian Government bought costs around US$70 million before any security fittings.
2. From our point of view, there is no question that a President of the country needs a dedicated aircraft for ease of travel. Such an aircraft has to be suitable for long distances and it has to look decent and befitting of a Head of State, but it should not be extravagant. The decision by the Government to purchase an expensive Gulf-stream G650 aircraft instead of an affordable ATR 72 or Bombardier, was reckless and irresponsible especially in view of competing for national needs. Even within the Gulf-stream family, there are more affordable models such as the G500 which costs about US$40 million. Across the globe, a Gulf-stream G650 is the Rose Royce of aircraft and is only procured by superstars such as Floyd Mayweather using their own hard-earned money. It is therefore shameful for President Lungu to seek to enjoy such exaggerated opulence using taxpayer’s money.
3. As Patriots for Economic Progress, our further view is that despite the gross mistake that the Government made to endow exaggerated opulence on President Lungu through the procurement of a Gulf-Stream G650, in the middle of national economic collapse, it would not be a good idea for any new Government that might be formed after 12th August this year, to sell the Presidential Jet. Firstly, given the global economic downturn, the market for such an aircraft is extremely depressed and we as a nation would be unlikely to realize even 25 percent of the purchase price for the Gulf-Stream G650.
4. Additionally, there is no doubt in our minds that any President who leads this country will require a Presidential Jet to allow for their ease of travel to various parts of the globe to represent us. Using commercial flights is totally unreliable as there are often delays and cancellations in connecting flights. It would be embarrassing to this nation for our President to fail to deliver his speech at the United Nations General Assembly because he is marooned in Dubai due to a canceled connecting flight.
5. The issue of chartering flights is often very expensive, especially for long-haul flights. Most countries especially in Europe and North America have very strict technical requirements for any foreign aircraft to enter their airspace. Most of the aircraft available for charter do not meet those requirements, and the few that do tend to be extremely expensive. Therefore, plans by any aspiring presidential candidate to sell the Presidential Jet once they ascend to the Presidency, are ill-informed and retrogressive for the nation. This is because neither commercial flights nor charter flights are suitable for Presidential travel. Any such move to sell the Presidential Jet would be premised, not on the wider best interests of the nation, but on the narrow individual interests of such a new President and his desire to undo the legacy of his predecessor.
6. As Patriots for Economic Progress, we wish to take this opportunity to appeal to all presidential candidates, who are in essence potential presidents of this Republic, to ensure that they focus on building on the legacy of their predecessor, should the Zambian people be gracious enough to elect them into office. One of the contributing factors why this country has remained undeveloped, 57 years after independence, is because every new President that is ushered into office spends a disproportionately large amount of national resources trying to undo the legacy of their predecessor instead of building on it. Already, we have seen such an appetite with some Presidential Candidates such as the UPND leader Mr Hakainde Hichilema. For this nation to make progress, the wider interests of the masses must be paramount and rank above any individual interests of a President and their desire for self-aggrandizement.