Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s promise in the Sunday Times yesterday, that all future defence purchases would be by transparent public tender is to be welcomed.
She was speaking to the paper after last week’s cancelling of the acquisition of eight Airbus Military A400M Loadmaster strategic transports.
The paper added a “new shopping list, partly funded by A400M savings, would focus on replacing ageing basic military equipment.” This is also good.
The defence department of course has a shopping list in the form of the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan, a 30-year rolling equipment acquisition schedule, complete with suggested budgets. The document is “Top Secret” but everyone one speaks to in industry has a copy, has a friend who has a copy or has seen a copy.
To be sure there will be the usual cries that transprency imperils “national security” – whatever that is – or will give away competative advantage.
But in light of the low military threat (many would so no threat) SA currently faces and the high cost in scandal and corruption that procurement secrecy engenders it would be bold buy wise to publish SCAMP.
Anybody who cares to look can see the gaps in SA’s capabilities orcan piece it together. The South African Air Force is looking for a strategic transport and inflight refueller in light of the A400M cancellation. Clearly, with the old Boeing 707s now on display at the SAAF Museum, this is a gap in our capability.
Ditto replacing the C130s, Casa and C47 Dakota transports. The latter, also an ad hoc maritime patrol aircraft, will be phased out in 2015. This is known. Obviously SCAMP includes funding in the years prior to that to fund the acquisition of a new platform. That is logical.
So declassify it. The move would bring greater certainty to the defence industry on when the South African National Defence Force expects to acquire equipment and may help manage budget expectations, although Treasury has the final say on that. But it will help.
Meetingswith defence companies over the last two weeks show that many are in dire straights and insight into SCAMP maybe the difference between staying in business or closing shop.
Public access to SCAMP will also manage taxpayer expectations on defence expenditure. The A400M is a poster boy of what happens when the public and especially the mainstream media is kept in the dark. Any price escalation, or even any new acquisition immediately excites public criticism and becomes “the Arms Deal, Part 2.”
Real transparency in acquisition and making SCAMP public would be a clear break from the past and distinguish Sisulu from her predecessors. It would be bold. It would be imaginative. It would be safe. It is what we need.