Zuma to get his jet

2013-05-25 00:00

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma is set for a new jet after all, almost a year after the initial deal was scrapped.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula confirmed this yesterday after she cancelled the controversial purchase of a 300-seater Boeing for the president and another jet for his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, in July 2012.

At the time the deal would have cost more than R1,6 billion.

Yesterday, the minister confirmed that new jets would be bought as soon as possible, saying her department had the responsibility to acquire planes for VIPs.

“Yes, it’s happening. I’m not going to stand here and lie to you. It is just a question of when and how quickly [it can be done].”

Mapisa-Nqakula repeated previous justifications for the plans, including that to charter jets was too expensive.

“I will confirm the purchases. We have a responsibility to acquire VIP planes. I won’t go into our experiences, but I will say we have had nasty experiences,” she said.

The department’s headaches with luxury VIP jets assumed crisis proportions between 2011 and 2013. Several emergency landings were neccesary, including one when Motlanthe was on board.

Mapisa-Nqakula said it was no longer appropriate to use chartered jets, as these were too expensive.

“We pay millions every month for chartered flights. It is unaffordable and can’t continue.”

She had already informed the secretary of defence and the head of the airforce that the acquistion process must begin.

Former Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said in 2011 that the government would acquire four new VIP jets, two purchased and two leased. The combined costs at the time were estimated at more than R1,6 billion.

Defence Secretary Dr Sam Gulube said yesterday he had drawn up a budget and the airforce would have to stick to it. “There are a number of specifications — range, capacity and so forth — but everything has to come out of the available budget,” he said.

He declined to confirm whether it was still planned to acquire four planes.

Tendering began in early 2011 for two planes on long-term leases to alleviate the airforce’s immediate needs. Mapisa-Nqakula said the airforce would also soon need new cargo planes.

DA defence spokesperson David Maynier said it was scandalous that the department’s top acquisition priority was to buy a new jet for the president. “The department’s budget has been cut to the bone. One would have thought any resources would go to the SANDF and not to the president’s needs.”

Maynier said he believed the special defence fund, which contains almost R4,6 billion, would be used for the acquisitions.

Last year, he asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the procurement process followed in the previous deal.

Yesterday, he said the investigation had not yet been finalised.

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