SOUTHERN Province minister Honourable Cornelius Mweetwa says President Hakainde Hichilema will not use the Presidential Jet when travelling New York for the United Nations General Assembly, but will instead fly on a commercial flight so that he does not waste resources. The Choma Central member of parliament adds that the President does like a life of luxury, and as such, he doesn’t look forward to the comfort of flying in the presidential jet.

MWEETWA: “His Excellency the President of Zambia Mr Hakainde Hichilema will be traveling to attend the UN General Assembly. We as a party are reliably informed that as a demonstration that the President is a man of action, who is not interested in luxurious life of comfort and in line with election campaign promises on the treatment of the Presidential Jet, his Excellency the President Mr Hakainde Hichilema will not be using this Presidential Jet going to attend the UN General Assembly. He is travelling using the normal commercial flights like any other citizen. So that is a demonstration of prudence of ensuring departure of extravagant utilisation or abuse of public resources. His Excellency has also indicated that he will be traveling to New York with a very small team. His Excellency has committed to keep his word that he will walk the talk, very lean team. You will see the number of people he will be traveling with, he will be traveling with ordinary routine planes and not hiring a jet to attend that function.

There are several things that are wrong with this statement from the Southern Province minister. First of all, he is completely out of order in talking about presidential affairs. One of the fundamental mistakes that the Patriotic Front made before they were kicked out of power is that they did not respect the established channels of communication. Under PF, a party provincial chairman would speak on behalf of State House, a Councillor would issue a statement on behalf of State House and a President’s advisor would address the public on matters to do with the Ministry of Defence for example.

When you have no respect for established government channels of communication, you create a situation where one official says this and another one speaks to the contrary. This is what happened under the Patriotic Front. We saw how the ruling party officials would issue a statement that bordered on government policy, only to have that position overturned by a minister the same day.

If the UPND officials do not exercise self-restraint on issues which they can comment on, they will end up with the same confusion that submerged the PF. Honourable Mweetwa is the Minister of Southern Province, he must stick to issues affecting his province. If he wants to talk about matters of the UPND in his capacity as deputy party spokesperson, it must be issues that relate to his party. Matters to do with government must be left to the Chief Government Spokesperson and presidential affairs must be left to the designated State House Spokesperson.

We know the temptation may be high to address the nation, when you think you have some information on the issue, but the UPND leadership must realise that they are no longer in opposition. When you speak carelessly like that you make the work of the Chief Government spokesperson very difficult, you also make it difficult for the Vice-President who is supposed to drive the government agenda in the National Assembly. If what Honourable Mweetwa said at the press briefing is not government position, the Vice-President will have no choice but to contradict that statement – which becomes the beginning of confusion.

The second problem with Honourable Mweetwa’s statement is that it is not well thought out in terms of logic. We don’t see why the President should fly on a commercial flight in this era of Covid-19. What’s the point? Why should the President suffer the consequences of being quarantined in a foreign land simply because he did not want to use the presidential jet? Hourable Mweetwa needs to understand the difference between comfort and security. In fact, comfort that is on the Presidential jet is the same comfort that Mr Hichilema is already used to, so what does he mean when he says the President is not interested in the life of luxury and comfort?

The Gulfstream was already bought, and it’s senseless to even consider it for sale. What the President needs to do is to ensure that the process used in buying the said jet is reviewed. The actual value of the jet must be assessed against what our government paid. Once it is established that some people overpriced it in order to get kickbacks, they should be arrested and prosecuted. If you want to sell the presidential jet because it was too costly and unnecessary, then you must also sell the fire trucks, the ambulances, and toll gates. If you don’t want the President to use the jet because it’s procurement was laced with corruption, then you must advise him to stop using the entire PF road network starting with the road that leads to his New Kasama because that’s where the real grand corruption took place. But is that logical?

It is time for this government to wake up and realise that they are the government not the opposition!