Cabinet Office has refuted social media allegations that First Lady Mutinta Hichilema used the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) owned GulfStream G650 Presidential Jet to travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to attend an international conference in November, 2022.
Deputy Secretary to Cabinet, Oliver Kalabo, said Mrs Hichilema did not use the presidential jet but flew on a commercial Emirates airline to the Middle East for a Merck Foundation meeting held from November 15 to 16, 2022.
Addressing a press briefing in Lusaka, Dr Kalabo explained that although the Gulf Stream flew to Dubai on the same day as Mrs Hichilema, the First Lady boarded Emirates Airlines.
He said the Gulf Stream arrived in Dubai on November 13 around 09 hrs Zambian time for routine annual maintenance, hours way after the First Lady who arrived on November 14, 2022, 06:25 hours.
Dr Kalabo said Merck Foundation paid for the First Lady’s ticket and other expenses including for her three technical and support staff.
He said it was just by coincidence that the First Lady travelled to Dubai at the same time that the Gulf Stream flew to Dubai for its annual maintenance.
He stated that only ZAF Pilots and Technical crew were on board the Gulfstream which is due to come back to Zambia on December 10, 2022.
And Dr Kalaba stressed that there is consensus in Cabinet on plans of selling the Gulf Stream.
“There is general consensus by the Cabinet that the jet should go. The plane was bought fraudulently, it was overpriced, ” said Dr Kalabo.
He said the Gulf Stream was fraudulently acquired with the purchase price inflated and that on that principle, the UPND administration cannot allow President Hakainde Hichilema to use the plane.
The Deputy Secretary to Cabinet said borrowed money was used to pay for the Gulf Stream which could have gone to finance development projects in health and education sectors and alleviate poverty.
Dr Kalabo said investigations have since commenced to ensure that culprits are held accountable for purchasing an aircraft for about US$194 million when the actual cost ranged between US$50 – and $60 million dollars.
And Ministry of Information and Media Permanent Secretary, Kennedy Kalunga, appealed to media houses to verify information before publishing and broadcasting.
Mr Kalunga said the government stands ready to avail information to the general public.
“We appeal to all the media, all the journalists in Zambia and world wide, who want to verify information, we are there to give them information,” said Mr Kalunga.
Mr Kalunga has since urged journalists to remain ethical, factual and professional in their work by verifying information.