Defence, finance ministers to meet on VVIP aircraft

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is set to meet her finance colleague, Pravin Gordhan soon to start a new acquisition process for a new “VVIP” fleet for the South African Air Force.
In an oral reply to a question last week, Mapisa-Nqakula said “both the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and Minister of Finance are scheduled to meet before the end of the month to take forward discussions on this matter.”
She added that in early July the defence ministry “Hosted a media conference wherein we announced that although the need and requirements for air transportation for our VVIPs [very, very important people; the President and Cabinet] remain urgent, and that at some point a new procurement process will have to be embarked on, the department will have to first conduct a consultation process that takes into consideration all our circumstances before a new process start.
“Such a new process will include all the relevant stakeholders, in particular the Air Force in outlining the specifications of aircrafts to meet our requirements, as well as the National Treasury in relation to the procurement and budgetary processes to be considered in this regard.” 
Mapisa-Nqakula added that she was “certainly committed to come back to the House [the National Assembly] and report on any decision going forward.
She also noted “recent media reports relating to the overall costs of flights for VIPs between 2009 and 2012”, saying: “We share the concern relating to the high costs, particularly with regard to ferry flights. We intend to investigate how these could be reduced to the minimum. We want to ensure that the travel of VIPs, while it needs to be managed effectively, and with due consideration for the necessary security requirements, it is also done with a complete commitment to the prudent use of public funds. At the end of the day, as a department, we are accountable for both.”
Mapisa-Nqakula’s opposition shadow, David Maynier, welcomed the comment. “I do welcome the statement made by the minister that she shares my concern about the high costs of VIP flights and recognizes that there is a need to be prudent with public funds. … This is a welcome change from former Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, who seemed to spend much of her time zooming around the country on VIP aircraft, including luxury Gulfstream business jets, operated by the SAAF.”

Maynier was commenting too on the transport of VIPs on-board helicopters operated by the SAAF. He noted replies to a series of parliamentary questions last week reveal that between 2009 and 2012 the SAAF provided 590 helicopter flights for VIPs at the cost of R50 million.

The SAAF provided 147 VIP helicopter flights in 2009/10, 194 VIP helicopter flights in 2010/11, 211 VIP helicopter flights in 2011/12 and 38 VIP helicopter flights in 2012/13 as follows:

(Ferry Flights)

Of the 590 VIP helicopter flights, 228 VIP helicopter flights were “ferry flights”. “That means there were no VIP passengers on board the VIP helicopter for 228 of the flights,” he says. The 590 VIP helicopter flights cost R50 981 806.70 broken down as follows:

·         362 VIP helicopter flights at the cost of R 44 822 319.60; and
·         228 VIP helicopter “ferry flights” at the cost of R 6 159 487.10.
“That is an average cost of about R85 000 per flight on VIP helicopters operated by the SAAF.”

This follows revelations last week that R34.5 million had been spent on 700 “ferry flights” for VIPs on aircraft operated by the SAAF. This included R 4.9 million that was spent on 58 “ferry flights” undertaken by the Boeing Business Jet (“Inkwazi”) used by President Jacob Zuma.