DA rejects access-for-confidentiality deal for A400M documents


The Democratic Alliance (DA) has turned down an arrangement proposed by the defence department for access to documents regarding the acquisition of the Airbus A400M military transport for the South African Air Force. Under the deal, the DA would have received the documents but would have had to keep their contents confidential.

The proposed deal comes after a year-long struggle to get the defence department to respond to the DA’s application for access to the documents in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The DA believes the documents will shed light on the multibillion rand deal to acquire eight Airbus A400M transport aircraft. The deal was cancelled in November 2009 due to “extensive cost escalation and the supplier’s failure to deliver the aircraft within the stipulated timeframes”, according to a government statement. When ordered in April 2005 the contract was valued at €837 million (R9.6 billion), but then-Armscor CE Sipho Thomo in October 2009 alleged the delays had escalated the cost from R17 billion to R47 billion. Airbus Military flatly denied the figures, saying the € 837 million price remained the only agreed amount between the parties.

According to DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans David Maynier, the Airbus A400M deal raises some serious questions because there was no tender for the procurement of the aircraft and the department of defence reportedly recommended against the acquisition of the A400M.

Secretary of Defence Mpumi Mpofo told Maynier in a letter dated 15 February that the government had “specific reservations” about releasing documents related to the acquisition of the A400M. These reservations meant that disclosure could possibly compromise negotiations and damage relations with Airbus Military; damage financial and economic interests of certain public entities and South Africa; and damage the defence, security and international relations of South Africa.

Because of their potentially disruptive nature, the defence department proposed that the relevant documents be made available and accessed through the Joint Standing Committee on Defence. However, access to the documents would be subject to “standing Parliamentary rules on privilege and confidentiality”.

In practice, this means that the documents would be made available in return for an agreement not to disclose the contents of the documents to the public, the DA said in a statement.
“If there is material that would embarrass the government or if there was evidence of wrongdoing, then my ability to pursue these matters in public would be compromised,” Maynier said. “This would obviously subvert my ability to conduct effective scrutiny and oversight of the Airbus A40M deal.”
“I have, therefore, rejected the proposed access-for-confidentiality deal and requested that my application for access to the documents, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (No 2 of 2000), now be processed as a matter of urgency by the of defence department.” Maynier believes the department will be compelled to release a large number of documents on the acquisition of the Airbus A400M, which may be embarrassing to the government, but will not in any way damage the defence, security and international relations of South Africa.
“The bottom line is that the public have a right to know if there was any wrongdoing in the attempted acquisition of the Airbus A400M transport aircraft,” he said.

At the moment the government is “haggling hard” to get Airbus to return nearly R3 billion it had initially paid for the A400Ms. The government believes the money should have been paid back when the contract was terminated in November 2009.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said last week that, “we have not yet recovered our investment into the Airbus venture. As we have always indicated this was a primary condition of our contract with Airbus that should we withdraw before a particular cut-off time we would be able to recover what we had put in…We have given them [Airbus] 12 to 18 months to pay back and live up to the contract, so in 18 months time if they haven’t we will look at what options are available.”