Airbus 'Makes Military Sense'
It made business sense to buy the military airbus A400M, given that South Africa would take a 5% stake in the European consortium that was manufacturing it, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said yesterday.
Speaking during question time in Parliament, he said: "I can't see us taking a stake in one entity and then going to buy elsewhere."
The stake would also mean that part of A400M would be produced in South Africa, with spin-offs such as job creation.
However, Lekota rejected accusations that the government had by-passed government tender processes, saying no decision to buy the aircraft had been made yet.
The South African Government was busy effecting the 5% stake offered to it.
"In the very near future we will start the process of the procuring - that is a different thing," Lekota said, dodging a question on how much the aircraft package would cost the SA taxpayer.
It was reported in December last year that the government was to spend R8-billion on acquiring a fleet of military airbuses which were still a "paper aircraft".
Airbus Military - the consortium which plans to manufacture the aircraft - expected the first flights in 2008.
Lekota repeated that other aircraft on the market were found by the SANDF to be "deficient in many respects", including that some would soon be out of circulation.
He said the A400M was a "new-generation aircraft", with "a lifespan of 50 to 60 years once it takes off".
Although some aircraft might be cheaper, it was an established principle that "quite often buying cheap is buying dear", Lekota told MPs.
Referring to the ongoing controversy and allegations of corruption that still bedevil the democratic government's first arms deal, he said: "It has been an important lesson.
"Never again will we expose government to questioning in the manner it was questioned."
Lekota again faced questions in the National Assembly about the controversial deal, denying that the late Defence Minister Joe Modise - who was accused of alleged corruption - had been given any draft or final version of the multi-agency investigation tasked with the strategic defence procurement package.
Lekota said he was the Minister of Defence at the time of the investigation "so no former defence minister was given a copy of the draft".
The Minister rejected DA MP Eddie Trent's view that Parliament and the public were misled because substantial changes had been made and material facts omitted from the final report because of government intervention.
Trent said it was common knowledge that one of the agencies, the Auditor-General's office, had held meetings with President Mbeki and other cabinet ministers.
Lekota said the agencies were better placed to answer questions on whether substantive changes had been affected.
However, he objected to the implication that because the President and ministers had interacted with the agencies investigating the deal "we told them what finding to make and what to change".
With acknowledgements to Angela Quintal and the Pretoria News.