Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ruto’s luxury jet hire to cost Sh100m

Deputy President William Ruto’s office has hired a luxury jet for his travels across the continent in a deal which will cost taxpayers up to $300,000 (Sh25.14 million) every three months.

Documents seen by the Sunday Nation show that the invoice for the first instalment of the “quarterly payment” for the Bombardier 850 Challenger plane was lodged on Wednesday.

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The plane is being supplied by VistaJet Company, a firm which describes itself as the world’s premier luxury aviation company for private jet charter and private jet ownership.

The payments across the year for the use of the jet will amount to $1.2 million (Sh100.56 million).

Mr Ruto left the country aboard the jet on Thursday for a four-nation trip which will take him to Gabon, Congo, Nigeria and Algeria.

The Deputy President’s office issued a statement saying Mr Ruto was representing President Kenyatta on the trips in response to invitations by leaders of those countries when they attended the Kenyan leader’s inauguration last month.

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The Deputy President’s office said the trips reflected a desire by the government to underline its intention to pursue a foreign policy agenda guided by Pan-Africanism.

“The Deputy President is representing the President on the official engagements. This follows the emphasis by the government and President Uhuru that the next frontier of the country’s partnership is the African continent. We believe with the strategic leadership we have in the region, Kenya needs to establish a partnership with countries in the South, West, North and Central Africa.”

But the cost to taxpayers of the President’s and Deputy President’s foreign trips will raise eyebrows.

Mr Kenyatta enjoys the services of a private jet purchased during President Moi’s reign which he uses when travelling around Africa.

The decision to procure the services of a different jet for Mr Ruto’s use will inevitably draw criticism as wasteful at a time when the government says it is trying to limit expenditure on running the government to free up resources for development.

The speed with which VistaJet was contracted to supply the lucrative jet hiring services will raise questions as to whether any tender process was followed before the contractor was identified.

An official whose name appears on the “VistaJet Program Partnership Agreement” payment request sent by the company from its offices in Salzburg, Austria, flatly refused to comment on the matter saying it was a “sensitive issue”. He demanded that the Sunday Nation reporters go physically to the office of the Deputy President to lodge their inquiries on Monday.

But transparency campaigner Mwalimu Mati of Mars Group said the government needed to halt trips abroad which were costing the taxpayer millions of shillings.

“This is totally outrageous,” he said. “We already have a presidential jet at the disposal of the President and his Deputy. Why hire another one when you have already bought one? The President should live up to his word that the government will not be a gravy train and stop this.”

An initial list indicted that Mr Ruto was to be accompanied by 14 people including politicians and aides.

The plane which Mr Ruto’s team flew in lives up to its reputation as a luxury jet.

The Bombardier 850 Challenger is marketed by VistaJet as a plane which “fuses the capabilities of a larger aircraft with the comfort and flexibility of an executive jet”.

It is capable of accommodating 15-19 passengers and the firm says all its planes come complete with a mahogany finish and all-leather interior. The jet has a bedroom at the rear for VIPs, wireless Internet and a fully equipped kitchen.

The plane has a transcontinental range meaning it can fly further than the official President’s jet and, according to its manufacturers, the plane affords “the best-in-class business environment, offering the widest cabin in its class”.

“The Bombardier Challenger 850 aircraft was created to challenge convention and establish a new class of business aircraft,” the jet manufacturer’s promotional material reads.

“In doing so, the jet has excelled in every way, setting the standard for reliability, dependability and value in its class. Expansive and versatile, it provides the flexibility to deliver customised solutions for any corporate requirement.”

The plane has lately become a favourite of jet-set celebrities.

Last year, American singer Beyonce bought a Bombardier Challenger 850 as a gift for her husband, musician Jay-Z, on the occasion of Father’s Day. The plane cost a reported $30 million (Sh2.5 billion).

The jet is also popular in many parts of the world and VistaJet, whose fleet is dominated by Bombardier planes, has recorded impressive growth opening offices across Europe, the Middle East, Asiaand West Africa.

The plane was reportedly last used by Kenyan clients when one was leased to take Prime Minister Raila Odinga to Cote d’Ivoire to mediate following a post-election crisis in that country.

On that occasion, the bill was footed by various international organisations which were sponsoring efforts to end the blood-letting following a disputed election in that country.

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