VIP flight chartering: We need a full-scale hearing
The Democratic Alliance (DA) will call on Stanley Motimele, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, to schedule a full-scale hearing on the chartering of aircraft by the Department of Defence to transport VIPs.
The report in today's Sunday Times that the cost of chartering flights for former president Thabo Mbeki came to R20.5 million, once again focuses attention on chartering of flights for VIPs by the defence department (see report).
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, recently revealed that there had been a massive increase in spending from R3.6 million in 2009 to R16.9 million in 2010 on the chartering of flights for VIPs by the Department of Defence. The state forked out more than R1 million per charter on several occasions in 2010. There were five R1 million-plus charters last year, including charters which cost the public purse between R2.4 million and R4.2 million per charter.
The minister attributed the increase in spending in part to "additional responsibilities given to former president Thabo Mbeki by the African Union, which requires a great deal of travel."
The cost of chartering aircraft is clearly excessive, but is it fair for former president Thabo Mbeki to take the blame?
The fact is that Minister Sisulu has consistently refused to disclose information about flights, including the cost of flights for President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and herself.
The minister is quick to blame former president Thabo Mbeki for the excessive expenditure on the chartering of aircraft. However, how much has the state spent on chartering aircraft for the minister to shuttle back and forth between Pretoria and Cape Town? And how much has the state spent on chartering aircraft for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe?
The real cost of chartering aircraft is probably being "hidden" by the defence department using the South African Air Force Reserve.
The defence department appears to be effectively chartering aircraft from reserve force officers, who own private aircraft, and who are members of the South African Air Force Reserve. However, the defence department does not appear to regard the aircraft operated by the South African Air Force Reserve as chartered aircraft. The amount being spent on the use of these aircraft is not insignificant. Over the past two years, R37.4 million was spent on the use of aircraft operated by the South African Air Force Reserve.
It is important that we get to the bottom of what is going on with the chartering of aircraft by the defence department.
The DA therefore calls on Stanley Motimele, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, to schedule a hearing on the chartering of aircraft by the Department of Defence to transport VIPs. There are several issues that will have to be looked into, including the:
- excessive secrecy surrounding VIP flights operated by the defence department;
- massive increase in the costs of VIP flights operated by the defence department;
- defence department compliance with regulations set out in the Public Finance Management Act and National Treasury regulations; and
- the safety of the aircraft charted by the defence department in the light of deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe's emergency landing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009.
Statement issued by David Maynier MP, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, February 20 2011
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