Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has refused to give Parliament details of presidential flights involving the South African Air Force (SAAF) Boeing bizjet and privately chartered aircraft.
Answering a Parliamentary question she said: “As previously indicated in response to repeated similar questions, the Ministry and the Department (of Defence) deems all information relating to the movement of the President and relevant operational planning requirements as security sensitive.
“This information will not be made public and will be submitted to Parliament through a Parliamentary channel that protects such information.”
The question, as has become the norm on this issue, was posed by David Maynier, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister. He wanted to know the costs involved and why three aircraft were used to bring President Jacob Zuma back to South Africa after a recent trip to Russia.
His comments on the Minister’s refusal to answer his question were that the information requested was retrospective and “cannot possibly be security sensitive”. He also maintains similar information has in the past been given to Parliament.
“We know, as a result of replies to previous Parliamentary questions, for example, the total cost of President Zuma’s flights for his visit to the United States in September 2011 was R6 331 174.67.
“Additionally, former president Thabo Mbeki provided detailed information about every flight undertaken on Inkwazi.
“The information disclosed, incredibly per flight, included the departure date; arrival date; passenger names; passenger numbers; flight routing; distance travelled; hours flown; cost of accommodation; cost of meals and daily allowances; amount of fuel used; cost of fuel used; cost of handling fees; cost of navigation and landing fees; cost catering; operating cost; and the total cost.
“Now under President Zuma this information is suddenly ‘security sensitive’ and cannot be made public.
“The real motive for not making the information public is clearly to protect the President from another scandal,” he said clearly in reference to, among others, Nkandla and Guptagate, where the SANDF is involved.
In another development around the presidential aircraft and its flights, what has been called “continuing chaos” around scheduling is reportedly the reason behind the sudden resignation of Colonel Danny Molete, until recently Officer Commanding 21 Squadron, the dedicated SAAF VIP transport unit.
Reports have it yet another “situation” as regards flights back to South Africa from Tanzania, where Zuma had been attending talks on the Burundi situation, were the straw that broke the camel’s back for Molete.
Afrikaans Sunday paper, Rapport quoted an unnamed SAAF general as saying established lines of command were continuously ignored when it came to instructions and orders for 21 Squadron aircrew.
The so-called “security sensitivity” around not only the operation but also the acquisition of VIP aircraft was last year re-affirmed to defenceWeb. An enquiry to Secretary of Defence about the acquisition of another VIP aircraft could not elaborated on because, according to Dr Sam Gulube, the acquisition project was classified as a SCAMP (Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan) one.
Two years ago in her budget vote debate in the National Assembly, Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs National Treasury had awarded funds for the acquisition of another VIP aircraft to be operated by 21 Squadron.