BY VENERANDA LANGA
FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube was yesterday grilled in the Senate by opposition legislators over President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s penchant to travel in hired luxurious private jets when the country is saddled with serious problems like shortages of drugs and fuel.
In the 2019 Bluebook, the President was allocated $15,7 million for his foreign travel expenses and $1,4 million for domestic travel expenses.
Matabeleland South Senator Bekithemba Mpofu (MDC Alliance) asked Ncube during the Senate question and answer session: “What is government policy on international travels by the President? Are we going to continue to hire planes or you intend to buy an aircraft for the President in the long run?”
Mnangagwa recently hired three different luxury jets to fly him to Bulawayo, Angola and South Africa at high cost and senators felt the foreign currency would have been better spent paying for scarce medicines.
Ncube defended Mnangagwa’s travels, saying that even if he flew in a hired private jet, the expenses incurred were within the President’s Office travel budget, which was also approved by Parliament.
“The President’s Office has a budget allocated through processes that come through this House and which you endorsed and they are using that budget in a normal way to meet the President’s travel budget,” Ncube said.
“He (Mnangagwa) is an international leader and all his travel is necessary for the good of the country as he has to participate in critical meetings to ensure that our country remains in the international community. These are normal travels and are through the normal budget.
“All I know is that they are within his current travel requirements, and his office is able to live within that budget approved by the President’s Office as well as by you senators,” the Finance minister said.
But Bulawayo Metropolitan Senator Siphiwe Ncube sought further clarification, saying the problem was more to do with the luxurious planes that Mnangagwa hired whenever he travelled than the provided budget.
“The question really is that the country is suffering and there is no money, but the President is busy hiring a $12 500 per hour private jet when there are no medicines. Even the Parliament clinic has no medicines and so what we are questioning is that, it is not proper for Mnangagwa to travel in an expensive private jet when the country has no money? Even former President Robert Mugabe used to travel on Air Zimbabwe, yet the current President is using a $12 500 private jet,” Ncube said.
The minister responded by saying if Mnangagwa did not travel, then there would be no medicines coming into the country.
“The travels that the President was involved in are critical to engage the international community and only then will we have these medicines and other resources. The other week I travelled with the President to the United Arab Emirates and we were offered medicines which came in handy for Cyclone Idai.
“In order to have medicines in the health sector, it is critical for us to engage other nations. Currently, Air Zimbabwe cannot fly long haul aircraft as they are not fully functional and they can only fly domestic routes. Perhaps the call is that we need to resuscitate Air Zimbabwe, and we are working on it so that we can have more options for the President to fly. However, he has stuck to his travel budget very well,” the Finance minister said.