Maintaining there was minimal security risk when President Cyril Ramaphosa flew to Japan in November for the Rugby World Cup, a Democratic Alliance (DA) MP submitted an official request for information following another evasive response to a Parliamentary question.
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Kobus Marais is determined to find out exactly what the “security reasons” quoted by Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula are for the flight and why these precluded her from giving him the cost of the chartered Fortune Air Bombardier Global Express.
“I have no problem with the President being at the Rugby World Cup final to cheer on the Springboks,” shadow defence and military veterans minister Marais said. “What does concern me is that security is used as a reason not to make public the charter cost”.
Marais maintains the flight to and from Japan could not have compromised President Cyril Ramaphosa’s personal safety and “it’s hard to see repercussions of any kind on state security”.
“My PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) request to force disclosure of the information which has no security implications and should not be confidential has been received and acknowledged and I await the response with interest,” he told defenceWeb.
Acknowledgement of receipt of Marais’ request is in the form of a letter signed on behalf of Brigadier General V Sibaca, listed as “Director: Promotion of Access to Information” at the Department of Defence (DoD).
The November flight to and from Japan again brought to the fore an ongoing debate among South African military aviation specialists and enthusiasts: who should carry the cost of VIP air transport, specifically for the President, his deputy and Cabinet ministers?
The SA Air Force (SAAF) has a dedicated VIP transport squadron – 21 – based at AFB Waterkloof. In its inventory are the Presidential Boeing 737 Inkwazi (ZS-RSA) and a pair of Falcon jets, among others. The airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) operates and maintains these aircraft and also pays for charter costs when no aircraft are available.
One school of thought has it the air force should continue to operate and maintain the small VIP aircraft fleet with flight and other costs for the account of either The Presidency or the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO).
These departments contribute by far the majority of passengers for 21 Squadron operations. With the current budget shortfall not expected to improve over the next four to five years if ever, it would be good to allow the SAAF to better spend its limited funds on other operational issues including maritime and border taskings.
“If flight costs are borne by these departments it becomes a ‘user pays’ situation, something government regularly points out must happen in other areas,” a retired air force pilot said.