Zuma Boeing going – but new VVIP aircraft to come

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Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says the military is not now buying a new Boeing 777-2-LR aircraft for President Jacob Zuma.
“I have since met with the companies approached to submit proposals for the procurement of VVIP aircrafts, including Boeing, and I have informed them that the current process has been cancelled,” Mapisa-Nqakula told media.
State news agency SAnews reports her saying that in the past three years, it had become apparent that aircrafts used to transport VVIPs — which include the serving President, former Presidents of the country and the incumbent Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence — were due for replacement due to maintenance and other concerns. A decision was taken to that would see the replacement of the fleet based on the totality of transportation needs and requirements for all VVIPs.
Given the length of the procurement process and that it takes about three months for fleet to undergo maintenance, the department decided to deal with the matter in a two-phase process.
The first phase, which would be much quicker, would involve a leasing process through a private service provider from whom air transportation for VVIPs could be sourced when part of the normal fleet was not available.
The second phase would have involved the acquisition of new aircrafts based on the needs assessment. The minister stressed that the two processes were separate from each other. Specifically, it was clear that the requirements for air transportation for the President and Deputy President have become more urgent following several incidents involving their current aircraft. “On the basis of this, a decision was taken to engage in an urgent process to replace those two aircrafts,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
According to the minister, a deposit of US$10 million (around R86 million) was paid for the procurement of the Boeing 777-2—LR aircraft. But there was no signed contract as at the time quotes were being looked at for the procurement of the aircraft. “Boeing, at the time, happened to have a Boeing that had been ordered [by someone else] which was readily available to the South African government. Currently, there is no deal to buy a Boeing,” she said.
The proposal to buy the Boeing model 777 lapsed on 15 June, while another proposal from Airbus lapsed on 30 June.
Following the lapses, the minister informed Boeing that the deposit paid towards securing the aircraft was fully refundable. The company, she said, had already taken steps to refund the department.
This cancelation of the procurement process has no further financial implications for the department.
“We will now start a new process where the Air Force will have to play a central role together with their clients themselves to determine the specifications of the kind of aircraft that we need. Such a new process will also involve National Treasury in relation to the procurement process and budgetary implications to be considered,” explained the minister.
Mapisa-Nqakula added that former Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu had requested that the matter be investigated by the Public Protector. The department has since received a letter from the Public Protector. “The Public Protector will determine the fairness or not of the process. The Public Protector will investigate every detail of this matter and give a report,” she said.
On whether the Boeing aircraft met the requirements of the department’s clients was a “matter that can be discussed later”.
Media reports last week said that the Secretary for Defence Sam Gulube was in the United States, apparently to finalise the purchase of the aircraft. The minister said this was not true. Mapisa-Nqakula said the secretary had gone to the US on a study tour, which was arranged before the recent Cabinet restructuring that saw her appointed defence minister on June 13.  
On the issue of finalising a lease contract from which to source air transportation for VVIPs, the department was seeking legal advice on the status of the process to allow it to make an informed decision.
The minister also highlighted that there was still a need to look into VVIP transportation.
Several incidences, including an emergency landing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo involving Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in 2009, as well as an incident in October 2011 – where the South African Air Force operated-aircraft which was to transport the Deputy President – encountered problems shortly before its scheduled departure from the Waterkloof Air Force Base.
Opposition parties have welcomed the news. The Democratic Alliance said it had maintained from the start that the process to purchase the aircraft was flawed. “There was no normal competitive tender process as required by National Treasury regulations and the Public Finance Management Act (No. 1 of 1999),” defence shadow David Maynier said.
“The former Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, appears to have initiated a dodgy process to purchase two new transcontinental VIP aircraft at a cost of more than R2 billion. I therefore requested the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, to investigate this matter and we must now await the outcome of the investigation.
“However, the Minister also announced that the defence department will be embarking on a new procurement process. This means, in effect, that the defence department intends to push ahead and purchase or lease up to four VIP aircraft in line with the decision taken by Cabinet in 2010. This could, based on previous experience, mean that billions of Rand are likely to be spent on VIP aircraft,” Maynier added.
“It is simply wrong to waste billions of rands on new VIP aircraft when so many people in our country are poor. President Jacob Zuma has a perfectly adequate existing aircraft – ‘Inkwaz'”, a Boeing 737 business jet – which is in mint condition. We must make do with what we already have.”
The Freedom Front Plus agreed the current jet is suitable to be used for another couple of years. “A Boeing 777 is totally unnecessary and would have been an extravagant luxury.  Should a jet have to be purchased in future for the president, it should be affordable, suitable and not be excessive,” said Pieter Groenewald, chief spokesman on defence for the party.