Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, is adamant the SA Air Force (SAAF) will acquire a new VVIP aircraft and until such time as negotiations are concluded and the asset is a reality, another aircraft will be leased for at least 18 months to meet government’s VVIP transport needs.
Defending the lease option when she briefed media ahead of the opening of the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof today (Tuesday), Mapisa-Nqakula said leasing was a cheaper way to provide VVIP air transport than the charters currently used.
“We are exploring all avenues when it comes to acquisition, including speaking to SAA,” she said explaining the embattled national carrier had long haul aircraft in storage following the closure of a route, presumably the controversial Johannesburg/Beijing flight apparently initiated by SAA board chairman, Dudu Myeni.
“That could see a suitable aircraft acquired without money being paid overseas. It would then be refitted and refurbished to the necessary specifications to make it suitable for accommodating our VVIPs and VIPs.”
She also took sections of the media to task for quoting the cost of the new acquisition as being R4 billion – “no figure was ever mentioned, somebody in the media just decided that was what it would cost” – as well as the aircraft being called Zuma’s on an ongoing basis.
“It is not an asset of the current President, just as Inkwazi wasn’t a personal asset of former president Thabo Mbeki. It belongs to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and the SAAF operates it. When President (Jacob) Zuma leaves office the aircraft will remain at 21 Squadron and be used by South Africa’s next president”.
She also pointed out that a board of enquiry, headed by retired SAAF general Cedric Masters, was in the process of investigating aspects of 21 Squadron operations, including technical problems with the Presidential Boeing 737 bizjet.
“The findings of that enquiry will be taken into account when making decisions going forward on VVIP aircraft.”
The tender to lease a VVIP aircraft was mistakenly initially published on the Armscor tender bulletin as being for the SA Army but was corrected when defenceWeb pointed out the error.
In the wake of the announcement the Democratic Alliance (DA) has objected to the cost of R100 million it was provided with in answers to a Parliamentary question.
This equates to R273 972 per day the DA pointed out. “There can be absolutely no justification for such extravagance while the South African economy is under extraordinary fiscal pressure and facing a potential ratings downgrade. If President Zuma is serious about stabilising our economic outlook then he must personally set an example of restraint, and order the Minister not to proceed with plans to lease the aircraft”.
“In the latest batch of replies to questions relating to Zuma’s travel costs, the Minister again refused to make the information public for ‘security reasons.’ This is a desperate attempt to prevent the public from knowing just how much the President is wasting on luxurious travel considering that under President Mbeki, detailed information about flights was provided to Parliament including the routing, flying hours, landing fees and catering costs for every flight,” the DA said.
Mapisa-Nqakula did not give any indication of the aircraft type, configuration or other details, including range, during the briefing.