'Wasting money on empty flights'
TENS of millions of rands of taxpayers’ money have been wasted on empty “ferry flights” used to transport government officials.
Besieged by under-funding, the apparent waste of resources was revealed by Defence and Military Veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula in response to parliamentary questions yesterday.
Mapisa-Nqakula revealed that R34-million has been spent between 2009 and 2012 to ferry ministers and deputy ministers around the country.
Many of these flights — by SAAF’s 21 Squadron (VIP squadron), the reserve squadron and chartered aircraft — were empty, as planes had to be transferred from one province to another in order to pick up their passengers.
DA MP David Maynier said since 2009, 700 such ferry flights were performed.
The latest scandal comes months after a multi-billion rand tender for a new presidential aircraft fleet was canned by Mapisa-Nqakula last month, and after the defence force was forced to admit it had spent millions on hiring aircraft to “shadow” President Jacob Zuma’s jet while he was on official business.
The majority of flights are believed to have been flown from Pretoria’s Waterkloof Air Force Base to Ysterplaat Air Force Base in Cape Town to collect ministers.
The expenditure comes as defence analysts call for more hard-hitting questions to be asked on reasons for huge money wasting programmes currently being run by the defence force.
The R34-million spent on “ferry flights” includes more than R7.5 million which was spent on 249 flights with luxury Gulfstream business jets — with no passengers onboard.
“The VIP squadron spent R 13.5 million on ferry flights while the Reserve Force Squadrons spent R11.4 million.
“The air force spent another R9.5 million on chartering flights,” said Maynier.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s reply reveals the presidential jet, Inkwazi was used for 58 ferry flights costing of R4.9 million; luxury Gulfstream business jets were used for 249 ferry flights costing R7.5 million while R4.6 million was spent on two chartered Airbus flights.
The chartered Airbus is suspected to be the aircraft which was used to shadow Zuma.
Maynier put the wastage down to poor planning.
He said the Ministerial Handbook was very clear on the use of military aircraft for transporting VIPs
“Only under exceptional circumstances may such flights be conducted, which is clearly not happening,” he said.
“The exceptional circumstances must be that there are time constraints in reaching destinations by vehicle or commercial flights, the safety of passengers demands such flights, commercial airlines are not cost effective and for health reasons.
Maynier said the circumstances for such flights was also being abused.
“There are too many ministers zooming around the country on military aircraft. Hundreds of millions could be saved for service delivery.”
Maynier said he believed the biggest offender was former defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.
“Sisulu refused to provide details on the flights, precisely because she was covering up millions of rands wasted on flying ministers around.”
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman said the figures equated to R8 million a year being spent on such flights.
“What needs to be looked at is the number of flights being undertaken by the reserve squadrons and with chartered flights.
“There is a lot more to this than meets the eye,” he said.”