An affidavit tabled in court by new defence secretary Sam Gulube suggests that there may have been grave flaws in the R800 million presidential jet tender won by Nigerian-owned charter company AdoAir and that the tender process could be of interest to law-enforcement agencies, the Mail & Guardian reports.
It is likely to fuel speculation that former defence secretary Mpumi Mpofu may have been justified in stalling the deal pending an internal investigation. No explanation has been offered for her sudden resignation, announced in November last year, the paper says.
Gulube was responding to an application by AdoAir in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria for the reinstatement of a five-year lease agreement, which it claimed the department had cancelled.
But, Gulube said in his affidavit, in spite of identifying problems with the procurement process, the department was still negotiating with the company. He said that the original agreement would have resulted in a “potentially illegal transaction”. “The procurement of the very very important persons [VVIPs] aircraft is an important and sensitive transaction for the government,” he said.
“It cannot be done hastily and in breach of the legal obligations of the department. Some of the concerns that the department has may impose an obligation to report irregularities to law-enforcement forensic agencies to ensure that there is no wrong-doing,” he said.
Gulube does not elaborate on how the original agreement might have broken the law, saying only that the company failed to meet the three suspensive conditions outlined in its acceptance letter: the successful negotiation of the contract; a six-week time frame in which the contract should be “in place”; and the acceptability of the contract, resulting in the provision of two passenger aircraft, one for President Jacob Zuma and one for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. He also refused to answer questions from the Mail & Guardian this week and referred the paper to the department’s spokesperson, Ndivhuwo Mabaya. Mabaya and AdoAir’s legal representative, Gerrie Ebersohn, refused to comment because the matter is before the court.
Reports last year initially linked Mpofu’s resignation to the mishaps experienced by Motlanthe with flights. She quit days after an aircraft that was meant to fly the deputy president on a state visit to Finland experienced technical problems shortly after take-off, making it the third time in two years that he had experienced problems with chartered flights.