Monday, February 09, 2015

The politics of Presidential jets

Just a few days ago, the President of Indonesia made his maiden official trip overseas. He chose Malaysia as his first stop.

This, if you ask me, is an honor and perhaps the highest respect which reflects the strong relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia since we established diplomatic relations on 10 October 1957.

But it was another part of his arrival which caught some of us by surprise. He arrived in the state-owned USD 91 mil Presidential jet, a Boeing 737-800. This aircraft which comes with a USD27 mil cabin interior was delivered in 2014 to the Government.

Yeah, Indonesia has a Government jet too.

And yet, some of us are of the opinion that despite stable and positive economic conditions here, the Malaysian Government should not own or use business jets that are currently made available for use by His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Heads of our states, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, as well as senior Government officials.
At times, I think we overlooked the fact that Obama has a Presidential jet despite the national debt of USD18 trillion, or Japan owns an Air Force One even though the country has a public debt that is twice its GDP (public debt per capita of about RM300,000 per person).

If anyone read international papers or portals during the World Economic Forum, you will notice a piece of news that did not appear locally in Malaysian sites or media for unknown reasons.

The Newsweek's headline on 19 January 2015 caught my attention - "Private jets descent on Davos for World Economic Forum". Did you know that approximately 550 business and government jets flew into the region for the Forum (CNN's site says 1,700 planes, but you get the point)? And there were nearly 200-300 helicopter flights from Zurich airport to Davos.

A quick research online showed that Togo in West Africa, with a population the size of Selangor, has a Government jet for its President, a state in India - Andhra Pradesh - has a business jet and chopper for its Chief Minister, Namibia has a Learjet 75 jet for its President and Belarus, whose GDP per capita is on par with Pahang, has a Presidential jet too.

Surely, there is a reason why Government leaders around the world travel in chartered or Government owned jets.

We should look at the bigger picture and understand the fact that we can’t expect Government leaders to wait and sit around in airports or wait for multiple connecting flights while some simply shuttle in to the nearest airport.

Let us not forget that times have changed and there are many international events or summits such as the World Economic Forum, the OIC summit, the G20, the East Asia Summit, APEC, ASEAN and the dozens of bilateral visits that leaders make to strengthen diplomatic relations and to boost investments or trade.

There are also unfortunate, 11tih hour events like aviation crisis, international negotiations, State funerals and others which make commercial flights (be it via passenger planes or chartered planes) become challenging and complicated especially in terms of flight time and delays.

With the demanding, hectic schedules and travels, both international and domestic, Governments today simply cannot forgo the convenience of official aircrafts. It is high time that we grow up and look beyond petty politics.

No comments: