By Lloyd Himaambo
After being squeezed into economy class and separated from his wife on his way to Brazil a few months ago, president Michael Sata has ordered that government should establish an Executive Travel Unit which will be responsible for air fight bookings for all senior Government officials in Government.
Sata issued the order following the embarrassment he, the first lady and other senior Government officials suffered as they travelled to Brazil to attend the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in June this year.
People close to Sata have revealed, all was well from Lusaka to Johannesburg but problems were encountered on the flight from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo in Brazil.
The Travel Agency, Tara Travel, which was handling the booking for the President and his delegation found that all business class seats on almost all airlines had been fully booked.
‘So the travel agency was compelled to book the President and his entourage in third class, while at the same time Mr. Sata, the wife and other senior Government officials were put on the wait list for the business class, hoping that some seats would be vacant in this category on the actual day or that the Government would use its clout to secure seats in this class,’ explained a source.
‘Alas, on the day of travel from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, all business class seats were taken. The president and his delegation had to take economy class seats.
‘What is worse, the President and First Lady were made to have different seats. This really incensed President Sata. Things were, however, rectified on the return trip from Brazil,’ a source said.
Sources say Tara Travel is almost on the verge of being blacklisted by Government as it is blamed that it should have found alternative route and airline for the president to use business class.
Because of that experience, the President ordered that the Executive Travel Unit be Established. And the process top establish this unit in under way, according to sources in government.
This will mean that all senior Government officials will have to channel flight bookings through this unit, by passing travel agencies in Zambia. The travel agencies have in turn protested at Government’s intention to set up this unit as most of them get business from Government and will close.
But, experts warn that the error of one travel agency may lead to loss of business and later jobs by several other agencies.