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DA: Statement by Dianne Kohler Barnard, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Police, on the Department of Police’s private jet (19/11/2009)

19th November 2009

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The South African Police Service needs to familiarise itself with the operating costs of its own private jet. According to the jet's manufacturers, the minimum cost per hour of this specification of jet is R13,664. And according to industry experts that the DA contacted yesterday, this would rise to nothing less than R30,000 when factoring in the array of additional expenses associated with operating it in South Africa. Yet the police commissioner's spokesperson claims it costs only R8,000 an hour. In other words, the claim is that the South African government is managing to operate this jet at just 58% the cost at which it is commercially advertised, and at 27% the cost that industry experts tell us is a bare minimum figure for operating the plane in South Africa. This looks suspiciously like ‘Arms Deal mathematics'. Even more ridiculous is the fact that the commissioner's spokesperson has, according to reports, claimed that the jet is "cost effective" because commercial planes need to be serviced twice as often as his department's private jet. Well, quite. The point is that you don't need to buy commercial planes in order to use them. Indeed, if this private jet has been used once every week since it was bought, and an average of four people used it each time, then the total cost per person for each trip to date, incorporating both initial and ongoing running costs, would amount to R460,000, or approximately 70 times more than the cost of a corresponding business class air ticket on commercial flights. According to calculations based on information supplied by both the manufacturer and industry experts, it is reasonable to believe that the total running cost of this jet would have amounted to about R13-million to date. How exactly is that "cost effective"? Yet even the ignorance of claims made by the commissioner's spokesperson pale in comparison to those of the police ministry, which yesterday claimed that the jet was needed in order to transport personnel for "operational duties", and that the jet "can land and take off from short runaways", thus allowing the police to "deploy such members with (sic) a short space of time anywhere in the country". This is all nonsense. First, as the jet is equipped with only one wheel on each wing, it would be dangerous to land it on a gravel runway, and it can only land and take off from tarred runways of at least 1069 metres. This means that it could only land on a handful of landing strips in the country. Second, this is a private business jet. It is not designed for operational purposes, but rather as a mode of transport for, in the manufacturer's own words "the savvy business traveller". The business jet seats no more than nine, meaning that any unit using it for any operational intervention would be severely understaffed in most situations. If South Africa is relying on a private business jet to fly units to the scenes of incidents, then we have a serious problem. International best practice is for units to be flown from the nearest regional base by helicopter, allowing them to land a short walking distance from the target of their operation. The Oryx helicopters used by the SANDF could serve this purpose more than adequately. Each of these points has been verified by industry experts, including a former member of a military hostage rescue team. Put simply, there is no excuse for this kind of indulgence, when regular commercial flights are available for routine movements of government staff, and the SA Airforce is available for more urgent operations. The fact of the matter is SAPS resources are dwindling - as we have seen in the last week, backlogs at forensic science laboratories are at record highs, lost case dockets are at record highs and compliance with the police watchdog is at a record low. In these circumstances the police ministry ought to acknowledge that an error was made, and that state funds need to be spent more prudently in future.

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