A cache of official documents have put the final seal of truth on Nation on Sunday investigative stories on the presidential jet: the plane was sold and that President Joyce Banda has thrice used the same aircraft after the sale to Bohnox Enterprises.
In the last quarter of 2013 alone, the jet was hired three times for the President out of a number of different chartered planes she used during the period, the documents show.
The jet is Dassault Falcon 900 EX, formerly 7Q-ONE, but now registered as ZS-FCI after the ownership change to the British Virgin Islands-based firm.
According to a copy of the aircraft purchase and sale agreement we have seen, the deal selling the presidential jet was signed on July 1 2013.
The jet was sold at $15 million (roughly K6.7 billion at present exchange rates), according to the agreement signed between Malawi’s Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and Bohnox Enterprises.
This selling price—while well below the $25.65 million (K11.5 billion) that the Malawi Government coughed to buy the jet in 2009—was better than offers from Bohnox’s two closest competitors in the bid: General Aviation Services of the United States and Africa Dune Investments of South Africa whose bid prices were $10.14 million (K4.5 billion) and $10.2 million (K4.6 billion), respectively.
Some Malawi Government communication we have seen also shows that proceeds from the sale were allocated as follows: $5.8 million (K2.6 billion) to Malawi Defence Force (MDF) for peace keeping operations; $4.2 million (K1.9 billion) for the Farm Input Loan Programme (FILP), $4 million (K1.8 billion) for buying medical drugs and $1 million (K450 million) for procurement of legumes and maize.
The documents also show that between August 2 and December 15 2013, the President used various chartered planes 20 times.
Of the 20, Fortune Air accounts for 17, including the three occasions the now controversial ZS-FCI was used.
During the remaining three occasions, the President used planes from Executive Jet on December 9 and Belton Air on December 14 and 15 with Sadc paying for the services for her to represent the bloc at the Nelson Mandela funeral as well as DRC Government and M23 rebel group peace signing deal in Kenya.
We could not verify who paid for the 17 charters—whether all of them were paid for by “well-wishers” or if the Government of Malawi footed some of the bills.
The Ministry of Information, in a statement issued two weeks ago, while denying that the President ever used the country’s former presidential jet—appeared to suggest the possibility of the operator, Fortune Air, availing the plane just like any in its hangers without the Government of Malawi or State House specifically asking for it.
Said the statement: “Government further wishes to inform the public that whatever and however the buyer uses the ex-presidential jet is beyond the mandate of the Government of Malawi. Bohnox Enterprise Enterprises Limited, as government understands, is in the business of leasing out planes to whosoever is capable and legible. Therefore, government has no concern with the plane being advertised for charter or sale by its current owners.
“In cases where a well-wisher offers to charter a plane for the State President, government’s responsibility is to provide the standards of the plane befitting the President of the Republic of Malawi to the well-wisher. The well wisher is, therefore, at liberty to charter from qualifying entities. This is the case too when government charters a plane using its own resources.”
The Joyce Banda administration has in recent weeks come under intense pressure to come clean on the presidential jet after Nation on Sunday published evidence in December demonstrating that the jet President Banda had used on some external trips was the same one the Bingu wa Mutharika administration bought four years ago, but which she sold mid last year ostensibly to cut costs.
A local newspaper even stated that the presidential jet had not been sold at all.
But the documents we have seen now prove Nation on Sunday’s storyline that the old presidential jet was one of the chartered planes that President Banda has used in recent weeks registered as ZS-FCI.
As soon as she came to power in April 2012, President Banda demanded that government should get rid of the jet as part of her austerity drive.
Initially, documents show, the Banda administration planned to place the jet under a full management contract—lease out the aircraft—to defray some of the expenses associated with running and operating an aircraft.
This arrangement was supposed to be flexible enough to allow government access and use of the jet for VVIP trips as and when needed.
But government abandoned the lease decision in December 2012 in favour of an outright sale, according to the documents.
The reversal came after government realised that under a lease deal, Capital Hill would still be expected to spend a lot of taxpayers’ money annually through management fees and other expenses whether the jet made a profit or not.
Government was also not sure whether the management arrangement would be feasible enough given the uncertainty of the charter business on the global market.