New VVIP aircraft acquisition still shrouded in silence


Efforts by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to obtain detailed information on the maintenance and servicing costs of the Presidential BBJ have been put on hold due to the upcoming local government elections but the issue will again be taken up when Parliament reconvenes – with an added request.

In June DA shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais and party leader Mmusi Maimane submitted an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to gain access to Inkwazi’ s maintenance records.

At the time Maimane said: “Since the announcement was made that President Zuma will be handed a brand new Presidential Jet – which is estimated to cost the taxpayer in the region of R4 billion – the rationale used to defend this procurement is that his current jet is unsafe and not fit for purpose any longer.
“Therefore it is only right that this rationale is scrutinised in order to assess whether there truly is a need for a new jet, or whether this is simply a vanity project for Jacob Zuma at the expense of the country and the taxpayer.”

Marais said this week he had been informed by the relevant people in Parliament there was “a delay” in finding and furnishing him with the information requested. The matter will be taken up when the National Assembly reconvenes after next week’s local government election.

Armscor, the Department of Defence and Military Veterans and the SA Air Force (SAAF) are all maintaining silence on the acquisition of another VVIP aircraft for Presidential use. Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula initially wanted the new addition to 21 Squadron’s inventory at AFB Waterkloof by the end of March. Four months later it appears a purchase decision was not taken and a further decision was made to investigate leasing of a suitable VVIP aircraft. This now also appears to have run into problems.

Military analyst Darren Olivier’s latest input on the acquisition is that “there was a 12-month wet-leased BBJ selected and ready to enter service, with the contract about to be signed, when the whole process was scuppered over security concerns. Some were not happy with a non-South African crew flying the president, even though that’s what a short-term lease implies. Some discussions then happened around a ‘damp lease’, with a South African crew, but that didn’t go anywhere. Perhaps the lessor didn’t like the idea.
“Had that gone ahead, President Jacob Zuma would have flown aboard the leased BBJ to France for his recent State visit. Inkwazi would likely have accompanied it to carry ministers and other personnel who could not fit, as VIP BBJs carry fewer passengers than the 727.
“After the lease process was abruptly stopped the Armscor project team was ‘reshuffled’ (read, punished) and the process has begun again. Though this time the requirements have been reduced, in the interests of getting an aircraft quickly, so it’s almost certain that when an aircraft is leased it will be a BBJ and not a wide body. I suspect it was discovered during the RFI that the costs and availability of suitable VIP wide bodies for short-term leases is not as favourable as originally thought.”

He also points out that the President’s apparent averment to flying in Inkwazi has seen aircraft almost constantly chartered in recent months.
“This is costing at least R2 million a month as the aircraft are chartered for 30 hours a month at anywhere between R60 000 to R80 000 an hour.”

The DA has responded to these figures saying Zuma “must stop haemorrhaging the people’s money on the lease of a private jet, while his presidential plane Inkwazi remains serviceable and unused”.

In addition to the PAIA already submitted on Inkwazi maintenance and service costs, Marais is also going to ask for documentation on the tender and charter of the private jet.
“South Africans deserve to know the truth about how their tax money is being spent,” he said.