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Presidential jet reserved for Uhuru

Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY FRANCIS MUREITHI

THE presidential jet is reserved exclusively for the head of state and even his deputy cannot use it. Leader of Majority Aden Duale yesterday defended the use of a private jet by Deputy President William Ruto to fly to four African countries last weekend.

Duale, backed by several Jubilee MPs, attacked the Sunday Nation for publishing a story that Ruto’s trip cost the country Sh100 million. “We will not allow the media to violate the Bill of right enshrined in the constitution,” he said.

Duale said no money has so far been paid to VistaJet East Africa that Ruto used to tour Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Nigeria and Ghana.

The Nation Media Group has indicated that it has documentation showing that government entered into a one year deal with VistaJet at a cost of Sh100 million for the hire of private jets. Earlier this week Information PS Bitange Ndemo said the actual cost was Sh18.5 million.

However someone involved in the transaction told the Star that the advance payment to VistaJet was US$300,000 (Sh25.5 million).

Yesterday  Ruto threatened to sue the Sunday Nation over teh story and demanded an apology from the Nation Media Group. Ruto's lawyer Kioko Kilukumi said the actual cost for the hire of the jet in question was Sh18.5 million which was the cheapest available option.

“The allegations of a cost of Sh100 million are malicious as they are grossly exaggerated,” said Ruto. He said the jet did not have any luxurious facilities such as a bedroom, meeting room or lounge.

In the National Assembly, Duale said the hire was a one off and there is no one year contract. Duale said there is no direct flight to the countries Ruto was visiting and he would have had to connect via Dubai and Paris if he was using commercial flights. 

Duale further explained that the four MPs and senators who accompanied Ruto were nominated by the Leader of Majority of the two Houses.  

They were nominated Senator Naisula Lesuuda, MPs Alice Ng’ang’a (Thika Town) and Yusuf Chanzu (Vihiga), and James Mungai (Nakuru County Senator).

Ruto was also accompanied by a protocol officer from the Foreign Affairs ministry, three security officers, an accountant, and a financial analyst from his office.

Cecil Mbarire (Runyenjes) said it was common practice for MPs to accompany the President or Deputy President on foreign trips. The MP said she was offended by a cartoon in the Nation yesterday showing ladies massaging a man on a jet. “We did not come here to massage anybody’s body. We demand an apology,” said the MP. Millie Odhiambo (Mbita) said it was impossible to tell if the women depicted in the cartoon were indeed MPs.

Mithika Linturi (Igembe South) claimed that the Nation was inciting Kenyans by publishing the story on Ruto’s jet. He called for a bill to regulate the media further.

Gladys Nyasuna (Homabay County women) warned the Jubilee government that media freedom was at stake. Ruto has also filed a complaint with the Complaints Commission of the Media Council.

Ruto’s office said it sought competitive quotations from three chartered aircraft service providers to fly him to Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Nigeria and Algeria. VistaJet East Africa  was picked because it quoted the lowest price of Sh18,560,000 ($221,000).

LadyLori Kenya quoted Sh19,730,000 ($234,866) while ABM Aviation asked for Sh19,214,000 ($231,490). “A comparative quotation was provided by a local travel agent indicating that the cost to the four African destinations using regular commercial flights would be Sh21,060,270 ($247,767) and would six days to complete,”  said the statement from Ruto’s office.