Minister of Defence and Military Veterans response to reports relating to the Government’s decision to procure transportation for the country’s VVIPs

06 Jul 2012

We have invited you, members of the media here this morning to brief you and to give a formal response to the South African public, regarding the recent media reports relating to the government’s decision to procure air transportation for the country’s VVIP.

I am aware that given the recent speculations in the media, there has been expectation that we should have responded earlier and clarify matters regarding this issue. I have however felt it wise that as a new Minister, I should be properly briefed on the all matters to assist me to arrive at an informed and appropriate response in this regard.

Over the past two weeks, I have been receiving briefings on the work of the departments as the new Minister for the Defence and Military Veterans together with Deputy Minister Makwetla. These briefing have included discussions with the Council on Defence, during which a report was given to me regarding the process for the purchase of air transportation for our country’s VVIP.

Background

The South African National Defence Force is responsible for the transportation by air of the all our country’s VVIP. In terms of Cabinet Memorandum of May 1994, these include the serving President, Deputy President, the former Presidents’ of the Republic, as well the incumbent Minister and Deputy Ministers of Defence. This is done by means of VVIP aircrafts operated by pilots from the South African Air Force.

It is important that the function for transportation of all these VVIPs should be executed professionally, efficiently and most importantly, with the utmost consideration of the safety and security requirements of these VVIPs.

Over the last three years it has become apparent that the aircrafts used for this purpose by the Air Force are due for replacement due to maintenance and other concerns. A decision was therefore made to take a holistic long term approach which would see the replacement of the fleet based on the totality of transportation needs and requirements for all the VVIPs.

Given that the majority of these aircrafts have reached the end of their life span and were no longer technically serviceable, procurement for aircrafts with a life span of 25 to 30 years was embarked upon.

Government appreciated that such procurement processes normally take long and cannot be concluded overnight.

Decision on a Phased Approach

Given the length of the procurement process, and the fact that the current fleet have to undergo maintenance which makes them unavailable for periods ranging from a month to three months, the Department of Defence (DOD) took a decision to deal with the problem of air transportation requirements through a two phase process. The first phase which was much quicker would involve a leasing contract through a private service provider from whom air transportation for the VVIPs could be sourced when part of the normal fleet is not available.

The second phase would have involved the acquisition of new aircrafts based on the holistic need assessment for air transportation for all our VVIPs. I am clarifying this here because there have been cases where the media reports have wrongly confused the two processes as one.

The two processes, although serving to address the same problem in different stages, were completely separate from each other.

During this time, it also became clear that the specific requirements for air transportation for the President and Deputy President have become more urgent following various incidents involving their current aircrafts. On the basis of this a decision was taken to engage an urgent process to replace those specific two aircrafts.

As part of this procurement process the Department of Defence explored the buying of a Boeing aircraft Model 777-200LR.

The executive decision of the new Minister

1. The procurement of the Boeing Aircraft Model 777-200LR

Upon taking office on 12 June 2012, I received briefings from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary for Defence on the above mentioned processes.

I then took steps to obtain a legal opinion on the procurement process embarked upon. In light of the legal opinion received, it was apparent that the proposal to purchase the Boeing Model 777 had lapsed on 15 June 2012.

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.

I have also informed Boeing that the lapsing of the validity of their proposal meant that the deposit paid towards securing such aircraft is fully refundable and steps have already been taken by the company to refund the department.

Although the need and requirements for air transportation for our VVIPs remain urgent, and that at some point a new procurement process will have to be embarked on, the department will have to conduct a consultation process that takes into consideration all our circumstances before a new process can start.

Such a new process will include all the relevant stakeholders, in particular the Air Force in outlining the specifications of aircrafts to meet our requirements, as well as the National Treasury in relation to the procurement process and budgetary budgetary implications to be considered in this regard.

The cancellation of the procurement process has no further financial implications for the department.

2. The process of finalising the Lease Contract

In relation to the process of finalising a Lease Contract from which to source air transportation for VVIPs, I have asked that the department also seek legal advice on the status of the process to allow us to make an informed decision in this regard. We will also communicate such a decision to the public.

Conclusion

I am appealing to both the members of the public and the media to allow us a chance to continue with our consultative processes regarding this important matter, always with the understanding that despite our non-negotiable commitment to account fully for the use our public funds, what we are dealing with is also a sensitive matter involving the security of our country’s VVIPs.