A400M decision today?

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Cabinet may this morning decide the fate of the Airbus A400M Loadmaster strategic transport programme.

South Africa ordered eight of the large transports in April 2005 at a cost of €837 million (then R7.4 billion, now R9.6 billion).

 

Development snags have delayed the acquisition by between three and five years and has also pushed up the cost, but by how much is not known.

 

Armscor CE Sipho Thomo controversially told Parliament last month that costs had ballooned from R17 billion to R47 billion, but this has been placed in dispute.

 

A defence ministry spokesman says minister Lindiwe Sisulu yesterday and Monday met the company to discuss a new delivery schedule as well as a new purchase price. A spokesman for Airbus could not immediately confirm this.

 

The defence spokesman added that Cabinet, which meets this morning, will be discussing the matter. This was confirmed by another senior official in the ministry.

 

It is the second time in two weeks that Cabinet will deliberate on the project that will restore the SA Air Force’s in flight refuelling capacity and give it ability to support peacekeepers independent of heavy haul charter flights. The eight aircraft will be assigned to 60 Squadron at AFB Waterkloof.

 

The Star newspaper Monday reported that Sisulu would make a public announcement on the future of the programme later today, presumably after the Cabinet meeting.

 

However, her spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, denied that any such event. The Airbus spokesman was also not aware of any planned announcement.

 

SA courted Airbus in 2004 to join the A400M programme as a means to develop a local high-technology aerospace industry.

 

Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA) and Aerosud are risk-sharing partners in the programme while Armscor, Saab SA and Omnipless are contractors.

 

DSA CE Lana Kinley says her company expects to realise revenue of R13 billion from the programme over 15 years.

 

Denel CE Talib Sadik has previously said the group’s workshare amounted to €137 million (now about R19 billion). Aerosud MD Paul Potgieter said his company’s share was “in the same order of magnitude.”

 

The opposition Democratic Alliance has meanwhile expressed disappointment over a decision to put on ice a proposal for a multiparty ad hoc parliamentary committee to probe the programme.

 

Shadow defence minister David Maynier says his party “believes that the decision to put the brakes on the proposal to establish a multiparty ad hoc parliamentary committee to investigate the Airbus A400M arms deal is wrong.

 

“There is, if anything, now a greater urgency to investigate this, as new and murky facts emerge about the deal to acquire the eight Airbus A400M transport aircraft,” he said.

 

He says the DA on October 20 proposed a motion in Parliament to establish the ad hoc committee after Thomo made his claims.

 

“However, reports now claim that a decision has been taken to shelve the proposal pending the announcement of the final decision to proceed or terminate the … deal, following an agreement by members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans.

“The fact is that there was no discussion, and no agreement to put on hold the decision to establish this multiparty ad hoc committee.

 

“Moreover, the decision to establish the multiparty ad hoc committee should not be contingent on the decision to proceed with, or terminate the Airbus A400M arms deal,” he added.

 

“The multiparty ad hoc committee should be established to investigate the (A400M) deal regardless of the decision to proceed with or terminate this deal.

What we need to know is how we got into such a high risk procurement programme without a tender process and against the recommendation of the defence department in the first place.”



Pic: A400M military plane