The Sunday Times has reported that the long-running saga of whether President Jacob Zuma will get a better presidential jet appears to be continuing and there may be a twist in the tale.
The paper reports having seen tender documents revealing that the SA Air Force wants to lease an aircraft similar to the current presidential jet, Inkwazi, for it to start operating from October 1. The tender insists that the plane must come with such luxuries as a double bed and shower.
The defence force’s spokesman, Siphiwe Dlamini, said that Inkwazi’s “many technical challenges” were well documented and that there needed to be a second luxury jet on standby in case one of them was being serviced.
The 18-month lease, which could end up costing taxpayers R500 million (enough to buy an aircraft, according to one source) is reportedly just a “stop-gap measure”, according to the paper, while the air force continues with plans to buy a second presidential jet for as much as R2.8 billion, with the lowest estimate for a new craft being R1 billion.
“Aviation experts and industry sources”, however, told the paper that there was nothing wrong with Inkwazi, that it was being underutilised and could still fly for decades. One expert, Darren Olivier, said the key problem was that the air force’s transport fleet as a whole needed urgent replacement, and the 18-month lease would “suck up” as much as a third of the air force’s operational budget.
SA National Defence Union leader Pikkie Greeff said that maintenance staff had told him Inkwazi was “in 100% condition”.
“Several sources” told Sunday Times that Zuma’s “refusal to use smaller aircraft for short trips” was leading to a lot of unnecessary spending.
Zuma’s spokesperson, however, said the air force was the entity that determined what was suitable for flying the president and that the presidency didn’t have the “expertise or mandate” to get involved.