Democratic Alliance shadow defence and military veterans minister David Maynier is not letting go of the Russian spy satellite saga and has approached Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) for more information on the matter.
He maintains this committee, currently chaired by Connie September, has information dating back to 2008 as regards South Africa’s acquisition of a synthetic aperture radar satellite. The satellite, a Kondor-E, was reputedly going to be supplied by NPO Mashinostroyenia and used by Defence Intelligence (DI), a component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
Maynier has requested information on the satellite in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). His letter to September states: “Several references to the project (Flute as the satellite acquisition was first called and then changed to Consolidated Project Flute) appear in the Joint Standing committee on Intelligence’s annual report for the year ended March 31, 2008, including: ‘in the year under review the JSCI conducted the following investigations: a sensitive project in DI with potential serious financial implications for the Department of Defence (DoD). The JSCI requested the assistance of the Attorney General in this investigation and will report to Parliament in due course’.”
The JSCI report further states the committee will continue to monitor the AG investigation into the “sensitive project”.
The JSCI report for the following year also contains references to Project Flute leading Maynier to interpret that it was “clearly concerned” about the project.
“The JSCI also clearly intended to produce a special report for Parliament. However, in the end the JSCI produced a special report for the President.
“This mean the JSCI never formally reported on the findings of the AG investigation into Consolidated Project Flute to Parliament. It is now in the public interest for the JSCI’s report on Consolidated Project Flute, or an appropriately redacted copy of the special report, to be made public,” he said, requesting a copy of the report in terms of PAIA.
The “potential serious financial implications” referred to in the JSCI report could total more than R1 billion, Maynier said of the contracts apparently entered into in May 2006 between Defence Intelligence and NPO Mashinostroyenia.
That the contract for the synthetic aperture radar was still on track was, according to Maynier, revealed by Dr Sam Gulube, Secretary for Defence, during a recent Defence and Military Veterans Portfolio Committee meeting.
“A contract which has been cancelled and then reinstated, was a contract to develop a ‘military satellite’ and this contract was now on track, the committee was told,” Maynier said, adding this “officially confirmed for the first time the contract to develop a military satellite is ongoing”.
He has been investigating the satellite acquisition project for more than five years and has consistently come up against brick walls in his efforts to find out what the status of Project Flute is. Maynier is hopeful his request to the JSCI will help him shed more light on this acquisition. At the same time, he hopes it will not see the South African taxpayer unnecessarily burdened with yet another expensive Department of Defence acquisition.