OPINION

DA will do all it can to block Zuma jet - Mmusi Maimane

Party leader says this is ultimately a question of priorities and where the country’s resources should be spent

President Zuma must ground the gravy plane and put South Africa first

11 November 2015

Last week Armscor put out a Request For Information (RFI) for a new VIP intercontinental aircraft on the request of the Department of Defence (DoD) in order to “increase their current capacity to provide intercontinental air transportation to members of the SA Government.” The Democratic Alliance believes that the need for a new presidential jet is irrational, irresponsible and cannot be justified in the current economic climate.

I have therefore written to the President, urging him to show leadership by instructing the procurement process to be halted as a matter of urgency. If the President puts South Africa first then he should order the DoD to cancel the proposal and focus on ensuring that the real problems, such as the jobs crisis, chronic higher education funding crisis and impending water crisis, are addressed instead.

Research by CNN recently revealed that President Zuma is the highest paid President in the world relative to GDP. If the proposed jet does end up costing R4 billion, this will mean that South Africa spends the third most on presidential aircraft relative to GDP behind only Zimbabwe and Kuwait. In fact, even a cost of R1.3 billion – the market price of the current presidential jet, Inkwazi – places South Africa in the top 10. 

The question has to be asked what the return on investment would be on spending such a large amount on a VIP jet when South Africa is approaching a fiscal cliff and basic services and economic infrastructure remain grossly underfunded.

The DA will be using all available mechanisms to block the procurement, including taking the following steps:

1. I have requested that the President make a statement on the jet prior to his oral question next week.

2. I have requested that the Speaker of the National Assembly places an urgent question to the Minister of Defence to allow her to answer questions relating to its necessity and funding in Parliament on 19 November.

3. Write to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence to request a full briefing by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

4. Demand that the Minister stops the procurement process and instructs Armscor not to proceed with Requests For Proposals (RFPs).

5. We will be submitting an application in terms of PAIA for the President’s travel records.

Yesterday Armscor and the Department of Defence attempted to backpedal and downplay the allegations, arguing that no purchase has been made as yet. The RFI however makes it clear that principled decision to expand the VIP fleet has been made and that the timeline for doing so is less than 6 months.

According to the RFI document obtained by the DA, the new presidential jet should meet a number of criteria:

1. A delivery date of 31 March 2016 to Waterkloof Airforce Base for an interim solution

2. A utilization rate of average of 660 flying hours per year

3. New or pre-owned but not older than 2005

4. A range of 5500 nautical miles non-stop with 18 passengers on-board or 7200 nautical miles non-stop with 30 passengers on-board

5. An interior that meets VVIP standards:

- Private twin sleeping accommodation for one principal VIP, which includes toilet, shower and wardrobe facilities and be partitioned to provide total privacy. 

- A VIP private conference area for up to six people to facilitate en route meetings. 

- An additional Important Person conference/sitting area for up to six people.

- Seating for remaining personnel at commercial business class standard. 

An aircraft in the class capable of travelling 7200 nautical miles non-stop with 30 passengers could cost up to R4 billion. Assuming a flying time of 660 hours per year this equates to up to R300,000 per hour over 20 years, more than the cost of return first class fight on a commercial airline.

Inkwazi is a Boeing Business Jet 737-700 fitted with a luxury interior with seating for 18 people, a range of 6200 nautical miles and came into service in 2001. This is entirely sufficient to meet the President’s needs with the minor inconvenience of refuelling being negligible compared to the cost of upgrading Zuma’s jet. Further to this, the issue of capacity can be solved by having staff members follow the example recently set by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and travel commercially. 

Increased range cannot be the justification for the procurement of a new jet when the President only makes a limited number of trips outside of Inkwazi’s range per year. In fact, during the first 5 years of his presidency, 63% of President Zuma’s trips were to African countries which are in range.

Information on the President’s more recent travel has not been forthcoming with numerous parliamentary questions returning evasive replies that refer to the sensitive nature of the information. Under President Mbeki, detailed information about flights was provided to Parliament including the routing, flying hours, landing fees and catering costs for every flight. A great deal of this information has now become classified under President Zuma

This is ultimately a question of priorities and where South Africa’s resources should be spent. Government cannot justify spending up to R4 billion on an aircraft to serve the President while millions of young South Africans are jobless and unable to afford higher education.

The President must do the right thing and kill the procurement process before it goes any further.

Issued by Mabine Seabe, Spokesperson to the DA Leader, 11 November 2015