Mbeki’s jet jars the DA

South Africa’s two main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the New National Party, were on opposite sides of the fence on Saturday over the issue of President Thabo Mbeki’s official jet, the Inkwazi.

According to media reports, during its first six months the operational costs of the Inkwazi had set taxpayers back R13,5-million.

However, while the DA felt the entire affair was a ”damning indictment” of the government’s priorities, the NNP said far worse had happened under the old apartheid regime.

NNP spokesperson Carol Johnson said there were far more aeroplanes in use under the old dispensation.

Johnson said as South Africa was a global political player, President Thabo Mbeki had several international obligations to

fulfil.

Former presidents PW Botha and FW de Klerk both had presidential planes.

”The truth of the matter is that there were many more of such planes under the previous dispensation, with many of the former homeland leaders having planes of their own. The remains of the previous system have lead to the premier of Kwazulu-Natal, still to this day, having an official aeroplane.”

Since then the number of planes have been cut back considerably, she said.

The DA said that while it was true that Mbeki needed to travel safely and efficiently, the expenses incurred should be limited.

DA spokesperson Nick Clelland-Stokes said the total catering bill for 15 international flights on the Inkwazi amounts to R107 262 — an average of R7 151 per trip.

”A particularly opulent example was a flight from Pretoria to Paris on January 24, with a bill of R14 430 for nine passengers,” he said.

Clelland-Stokes said the party had suggested numerous alternatives, including the use of the national carrier and commercial charter planes.

Presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said it was impossible for Mbeki to be expected to make use of commercial flights.

”If he had to depend on commercial carriers, he would have been forced to leave for Malaysia on Friday last week and he would have been able to return on Saturday only, because those were the only available flights.”

He said the costs of the flights had to be weighed against the overseas investments they generate.

”Expenses regarding President Mbeki’s visit to Malaysia earlier this week should be seen against the background of the thousands of millions of rand which has been invested in South Africa.”

He accused critics of electioneering.

”They are electioneering and they know it. These arguments were all raised previously when discussion started about the purchase of the jet. They are flogging a dead horse.”

Asked about the high catering bills, Khumalo said he would not answer those allegations as it was a ”waste of time”.

Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats, had a somewhat different view on the issue.

”The president is entitled to a jet. But he is really running two portfolios: that of president and of foreign affairs minister.”

Mbeki has done 15 international and 17 national flights on the jet.

”He’s almost as much in the country as he is out.”

De Lille said Mbeki needed to concentrate on his portfolio of president and give up some duties to Foreign Affairs Minister

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

”Those two jobs need to be separated and that’s the only way you are going to cut costs.” — Sapa

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