That close to half a million Rand can be spent on foreign air travel when key defence areas are being neglected, essential equipment is falling apart and South Africa is struggling to manage its peace support commitments is a very real indication cost containment measures are being ignored by the Department of Defence.
This was the reaction of opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) MP and shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Maris to a written response to a Parliamentary question he asked close on six months ago.
He was this week informed, in writing, that “R442 643.52 was spent on flight tickets on the trip to Cuba by CSANDF (General Solly Shoke) and his delegation from June 13 to 19, 2016”. Other expenses incurred during the visit to the Caribbean island nation including accommodation and car rental were, according to the reply “catered for by the host”.
Marais maintains expenditure of this nature is “completely unacceptable” and points out the air travel was for Shoke, his wife and “three, yet to be identified, officials”.
Another area where at least part of the defence budget could be more profitably spent is maritime protection. “This is supposedly a priority in terms of Operation Phakisa, but it is woeful.”
He will be posing further questions on the Cuban trip to Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, to find out what exactly Shoke and his delegation were doing in Cuba as well as whether the flight costs were in line with containment measures set down by National Treasury.
“The whole truth behind this trip must be known,” Marais said adding the Department of Defence was wasting peoples’ money and must be held accountable.
According to the 2015/16 Department of Defence annual report, the Minister visited Cuba in December last year, one of four international engagements she participated in during the review period. The others were in April 2015 involving Russian, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey; September 2015 with the United Kingdom and the United States and Thailand in November 2015.
Cuban technicians are in South Africa carrying out maintenance on South African military vehicles under Operation Thusano while several South African pilots and air traffic controllers are being trained in Cuba.