KENYA has chartered a private plane for Deputy President William Ruto’s pan-African campaign for Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohamed in a move reminiscent of the Sh100 million “Hustler Jet” scandal of 2013.
Kenya has launched a massive diplomatic offensive to have Mohamed replace South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as the next chairperson of the African Union Commission.
However, the offensive, targeted at all the 53 AU states, is likely to cost Kenya hundreds of millions of shillings in expenditure that was not factored in the current financial year.
So far, Ruto has been to 10 African states in a week-long lobbying blitz – flying to the various capitals in the private jet at the head of a large delegation.
Ruto has visited Chad, the DRC, Nigeria, Algeria, Liberia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone and Gabon.
Besides Ruto, there is a separate seven-man Cabinet sub-committee headed by Education CS Fred Matiang’i that is spearheading a separate campaign.
Other members of the team include Najib Balala (Tourism), Sicily Kariuki (Public Service), Judy Wakhungu (Environment), Henry Rotich (National Treasury), Adan Mohammed (Industrialisation) and Raychelle Omamo (Defence).
According to online estimates for Paramount Jets, a private jet hire company, a VIP jet flight that can carry up to 50 passengers costs between Sh1.6 and Sh2.3 million per hour.
Apart from the cost of the jet the delegation is also being paid huge daily allowances. The state also meets their accommodation, meals and beverages expenses.
But yesterday, Government Spokesman Eric Kiraithe maintained, “It is way much more expensive” to take a commercial flight, especially where there are no direct flights.
“When it's [the private jet] properly procured, it’s way much cheaper,” Kiraithe told the Star. “When it comes to flying these delegations, you can't afford commercial. It's not easy, it is way much more expensive and takes way much longer.”
According to Kiraithe, commercial flights are only economical where one or two people are involved.
“At the end of the day, the expenses exceed the cost of getting a fair price for a private jet...Take it this way, if you want to go to Kakamega, then you go to Busia, then you want to go to Kisumu, Kisii, the best thing you can do is to take a helicopter,” Kiraithe said.
In his weekly media briefings yesterday, State House Spokesman Monoah Esipisu said Kenyans will see more of the trips ahead of the AU elections in January.
“You can expect to see more of the travel, as Kenya is robustly seeking an African consensus on the candidature of Ambassador Mohamed and that can only be achieved if the President reaches out to all the continent’s leaders, which is what he is doing,” Esipisu said.
But the new jet hire rekindles memories of the Sh100 million Hustler Jet Scandal – the first corruption incident to hit Jubilee only two months after President Kenyatta's inauguration.
In May 2013, the government hired a luxury jet for Ruto to lobby African states for deferral of the ICC crimes against humanity cases against him and Uhuru that were Jubilee's biggest headache at the time.
The Parliamentary Accounts Committee indicted Ruto's Chief of Staff Marianne Kitany and four other top officials in the DP's Office for breach of procurement rules.
However, Jubilee flexed its numerical strength in the plenary and defeated MPs pushing for prosecutions.
This financial year, the Presidency was allocated Sh5 billion in the Sh2.3 trillion budget to run its affairs.
State House got Sh2.94 billion, while the Deputy President's Office received Sh1.92 billion.
However, Jubilee has been under fire for the Presidency's huge spending, particularly on foreign travels and hospitality.
For instance, hospitality and travel allocations in the June Supplementary Budget were raised to Sh1.7 billion, an 84 per cent increase, from Sh925.4 million in the 2015-16 financial year.
The Presidency spent Sh946 million on travel and hospitality from July to December last year, a sum exceeding the year's allocation by Sh21 million.
In April this year, the Chief Finance Officer in Ruto's office, Mary Kundu, told Parliament the DP's Office was faced with accrued huge pending bills from his official travels while representing the President abroad.
She accused Foreign Affairs ministry, which is mandated with funding foreign travels within the Presidency, of being reluctant to fund Ruto's visits.
She said, "Sometimes we have to look for funds somewhere and the bills have to be repaid.”
Mohamed will faceoff with candidates from Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Botswana and Senegal in the January elections in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In July, the election flopped after the candidates failed to garner the two-thirds majority vote in Kigali, Rwanda.
Mohamed has said she is best placed to guide the African Union into the future on the global stage.
“I am an African with impeccable pan-African credentials. I bring on board competencies and experience that shall make it possible to secure the vision of Agenda 2063,” Mohamed said.
This is contained in a vision statement released yesterday.
“Every African citizen deserves a life of dignity free from harm in order to promote social justice and the realisation of their potential. I am optimistic that together we can continue to create a continent that not only embodies our pride and dignity, but also as a hub for peace and stability," Mohamed said.
According to Mohamed, her 30 years’ experience in diplomacy gives her the edge in leading the African Union into pushing the continent's agenda in the global arena.
"I have shown my mettle during the most difficult times for the continent. My independent international credibility and professionalism have been tried and tested," Mohamed said.
She said that she will leverage on her rich experience and contacts across the globe and shall not hesitate to lobby for positions, partnerships and pacts, “As well as advocate a stronger and respected African voice in the international arena”.
Mohamed said she would focus on intra-Africa trade, unleashing the potential of African women and youth and social investment and inclusive growth.
Her priorities also include peace and security, predictable and adequate financing as well as establishing an enhanced consultative forum.