The South African Air Force (SAAF) has defended the cancellation of its contract with Aero Manpower Group (AMG), a Denel business unit, and has hinted that a new contract may be negotiated.
The long standing contract between the SAAF and AMG provides specialist technical and support personnel who are responsible for the maintenance of a variety of SAAF aircraft at bases across the country. However, the SAAF has given notice to Denel that they will not be renewing the current contract, which terminates at the end of March.
Last week, Denel Personnel Solutions said that as there was no contract or orders beyond March 31 this year, the only option was “retrenchment of the entire AMG workforce”. AMG has held talks with the affected employees at the various SAAF bases and have outlined the plan for their retrenchment.
In response to negative media publicity, the SAAF has reiterated that the termination of the contract was because the contract had been declared irregular by the Auditor General.
Lt Col Ronald Maseko, spokesperson for the SAAF, said that “the contract dates back to a period (1986) where the current governance regime did not exist. Consequent to the Auditor General’s findings in 2009, that the contract does not comply with the Public Finance Management Act and National Treasury Regulations, the SAAF has engaged its strategic partner Denel Aviation in pursuit of an acceptable solution.”
Since then, Maseko notes, the Auditor General has consistently referred to this irregularity and the SAAF’s notice of termination dates back to 2011.
“The termination of the contract, in accordance with a provision stipulated in the contract, places the SAAF in full compliance with the Auditor General’s recommendations and allows the SAAF to develop its strategic partnership with Denel Aviation unhindered by governance irregularities,” Maseko emphasised.
Despite the looming crises which will severely affect the airworthiness of a number of SAAF aircraft, including those in the VIP squadron, the SAAF has not revealed any contingency plans should the contract not be renewed.
Trade Union Solidarity has said that at least 75% of the 523 Denel employees are in the scarce and critical skills band, without which efficient functioning of the SAAF will not be possible.
The VIP transport aircraft operated by 21 Squadron are almost exclusively signed out by AMG personnel and the effects of the contract cancelation will be keenly felt by the President and Cabinet Ministers. Other AMG personnel perform critical roles in workshops and testing laboratories.
Despite the impending crisis, Maseko notes optimistically that the negotiation of a new contract with Denel “can only benefit the development of a vibrant South African aviation industry that is capable of continued support to the SAAF in executing its mandate.”
Even SAAF personnel who work side-by-side with the AMG employees or who fly the aircraft are uncertain of what will happen from 1 April. While it appears that Denel may be going through the legal motions of advising their employees of a possible retrenchment, just in case a new contract with the SAAF cannot be negotiated in time, the affected personnel are going through a trying time.