Waterkloof probe damage control - DA

2013-05-19 22:19

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Johannesburg - It comes as no surprise that President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet were exonerated from the landing saga of a civilian plane at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, the DA said on Sunday.

"From the start, the investigation into the landing...was a carefully crafted damage control exercise designed to protect...Zuma and members of his Cabinet from the political fallout," said Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier.

"The scope of the investigation must include the role played by President Zuma and members of his Cabinet."

He said an independent investigation into the controversial plane landing was needed by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

A plane chartered by the Gupta family, carrying 270 wedding guests, landed at the base last month. Guests were attending the wedding of Vega Gupta, 23, and Indian-born Aakash Jahajgarhia at Sun City.

The landing sparked widespread criticism.

Several government ministers initiated an investigation into a possible breach of diplomatic protocol.

On Sunday, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said Zuma and his Cabinet had no involvement in the landing.

Radebe said one of the findings of the investigation was that the landing was a direct result of manipulation of processes.

He said names had been "dropped" during the course of the probe including that of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Transport Minister Ben Martins and Zuma.

False information

He said the aircraft was cleared for landing and the correct clearance procedures were followed. But this was based on false information and abuse of privileges by a group who acted in common purpose.

This group included the Chief of State Protocol, ambassador Bruce Koloane, who acted in contravention of existing diplomatic protocols, he said.

The investigation found that the wealthy Gupta family had resorted to using diplomatic channels when it failed to get landing rights from ministers and the Airports Company SA.

In March, Mapisa-Nqakula and her adviser were approached by the Gupta family on different occasions, said Radebe. On 3 April 2013, the request was turned down.

Maynier said the fact that some ministers "sat on their hands" and did not issue any instruction was part of the problem and should have been investigated.

"The minister of defence.... received and turned down a request for landing rights....Had the minister officially notified the chief of the SA National Defence Force... the Guptas' chartered jet...would never have been allowed to land..," he said.

"This is why we need an independent investigation to be conducted by the Public Protector into Guptagate."

Take action

Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald demanded that decisive action be taken. He said Radebe's statement that false information and abuse of privileges led to the landing amounted to fraud.

"The guilty should be named and prosecuted. The fact that false information led to the correct landing procedures being followed creates a serious void in the process which has to be followed to allow airplanes to land," he said in a statement.

"It does not matter whether Waterkloof is a national key point or not; the fact is that Waterkloof is a military air force base and is therefore a security area and a serious security breach took place."

Radebe said earlier the base was not a national key point.

"The Air Force Base Waterkloof is a strategic military base....[it] is not a national key point and is not governed by the National Key Points Act...," he said.

"The Air Force Base Waterkloof handles both civilian and military aircraft."

However, on 30 April, the SANDF was quoted as saying the base was a national key point.

"As far as I know, no permission has been granted to a private citizen to use the base. It is a military base and a national key point used by government and its guests," SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini was quoted as saying at the time.

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