The acquisition of additional VIP aircraft by the SA Air Force (SAAF) has gone from a review of requirements and available budget to being put on the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP) project list.
During her budget speech to Parliament last year Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula indicated National Treasury approval had been given for additional VIP aircraft to be added to 21 Squadron’s inventory.
Defence Secretary Dr Sam Gulube this week told defenceWeb the project is now a SCAMP (Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan) one and “as such is treated as sensitive and classified”.
Two respected South African military watchers maintain this is wrong.
“Nothing about a VIP aircraft acquisition need be classified except for matters around the communications and self-protection equipment,” said military analyst and member of the Defence Review committee, Helmoed Heitman.
Supporting him is seasoned military observe and writer Darren Olivier.
“There is no valid reason for the acquisition of VIP aircraft to be kept secret as taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.
“While some acquisitions should be secret to preserve operational security, especially around long-term research and development projects, I can think of no reason why the purchase of VIP aircraft should fall into that category. Obviously some elements will be sensitive and secret, such as the specific make-up of any EW and other self-defence systems on board, but the aircraft types, acquisition timelines and total cost should be made public and transparent. A purchase like this should be debated in public before being approved,” he said.
On the topic of acquisition classification “with code names et al” Heitman said this was a leftover from the embargo era that “some of the more paranoid military minds want to hang onto because it hides the extent to which Armscor has caused problems with delays and how under-funding has allowed a massive bow wave of requirements to build up”.
“This is becoming downright scary because the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) even if given the money will soon find it cannot bring everything it needs into service within the timeframe to deal with how the situation in much of Africa is unravelling,” he said.
On the question of whether National Treasury approval for an acquisition such as that of VIP aircraft can be carried forward from one financial year to the next, Olivier said his understanding of SANDF budgeting was that it was zero-based.
“If National Treasury did allocate any funding for new VIP aircraft in the 2013/14 financial year those funds would theoretically have to be returned and re-requested for the new financial year. There can be exceptions, arranged by agreement between the SANDF and National Treasury, but those are believed to be rare.
“Things become murkier if the money was allocated but spent on other needs, as the funds are seldom ring-fenced and we know the SAAF was desperately short of funding in 2013. If that happened I would imagine Treasury would either accept a good reason and allocate new funds or it would require the SAAF to find the lost money in its other budget items when it initiates the acquisition. There’s very little information available publicly on this so it’s difficult to say for certain,” he said.
Final word comes from Heitman who points out the Defence Review recommends SCAMP be an open document “bar some sensitive items”.