The MP for Nata/Gweta Polson Majaga has made public his opposition to Government’s move of buying fighter jets from Sweden. President Ian Khama has just returned from Sweden to push for the conclusion of the deal. Below is Majaga’s Facebook post on his stand. “Good evening constituents. I have watched with awe as our President was doing a press conference in Sweden concerning the deal in which they are interested in buying Grippen Fighter Jets. I am still shocked at this and I fail to understand why our government can spend billions on fighter jets while we do not have threats or rumours of war. Our constituency was hard hit by the recent floods and no or less action was taken to deal with the situation. Our roads especially A3 are in a very bad and appalling state, the health sector is compromised; the water for drinking is saline and has no good taste, unemployment has risen, schools need to be renovated, HIV /AIDS is continuing to claim lives, road accidents as well claim lives every day. We need a dam in our constituency, we need good roads, we need better education for our kids, etc. Elephants continue to damage our crops and the yield for farmers in my constituency has gone down. I was hoping that the billions that are said to be buying those Grippen Fighter Jets can be used to improve lives of Batswana by creating more jobs, building world class roads, having road shows that are aimed at sensitising Batswana on road safety and AIDS, refunding Batswana who had their farms destroyed by elephants etc. I totally do not support this arms deal. Developed countries like South Africa are failing to maintain these Grippen Fighter Jets and what about small undeveloped country like us that relies on South Africa for everything? And on the other hand, do we have people who are trained and have the necessary expertise to operate these flights? I for one still believe that this money could have been used on something else that would benefit us as a nation. I stand to be corrected because issues of policing and security can be tricky and we need a good analysis before we conclude, if there is anyone who is well informed can they shed some light, kana ha gongwe there is more I don’t know.”
Thabo Masalila’s reaction
Another BDP activist , Thabo Masalila also took to Facebook to offer his deeper analysis of the military acquisition saga. This is what he posted:
“I really have no idea about the situation in South Africa - the point that Khama missed. A Swedish journalist put the following question to President Khama, “…but in South Africa many of the planes are not being used, can you really afford to use these air strikes in the long run?” President Khama responded, “I am afraid I can’t speak for South Africa. I don’t know what’s going on with their aircraft. I am hearing it from you that you say they are not in use. I don’t know in what way you mean they are not in use. Are they not training on them? Do they not employ them in combat missions? I really have no idea about the situation in South Africa. But then I’d just like to say, even on that… but is that… does that… apply to Gripen aircraft or any aircraft.” The greatest injustice meted out on President Khama will have to be limiting to non-existent outspoken officials who could have sounded off loud and clear when President Khama was wrongly advised or could benefit from a fresh viewpoint. Very few came along but were lynched at the earliest possible opportunity as if to suggest demonstrating a deep understanding of the constitutional power and leadership of the highest office was an offence that sought to undermine the presidency. And herein is the problem!
In 2013 it emerged that 13 of the South African Air Force’s 26 Gripen fighter jets were in long-term storage as the Air Force did not have the funding to fly them. Then Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula stated that 13 fighter aircraft were in the Rotational Preventative Maintenance programme as prescribed by the Swedish manufacturer Saab. Military analyst Darren Olivier noted that Rotational Preventative Maintenance (RPM) is a smart and effective approach to take when an air force is under severe budgetary pressure. It's based on the best engineering and logistical principles and, unlike mothballing or long-term storage, it means that aircraft are kept semi-active and flown every 60 days, are maintained and upgraded to the same level as active aircraft and can return to the active flight line within no more than two days. Most importantly, the aircraft in the RPM programme are periodically rotated out with the aircraft on the active flight line, so that all aircraft are used and the flying hours remain even across the fleet.
Already in 2010 there was great concern that lack of funding would ground the Gripen. Then-defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu warned that the Gripens could be mothballed if the military failed to get hold of extra funding. The Department of Defence annual report released in 2010 warned that the air force will only be able to sustain the Hawk system. The lack of money for the Gripens has also affected flying hours and pilot training. In April 2011 then chief of the Air Force Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano said the Air Force was not going to fly the required number of hours due to a lack of funding and in its 2010/2011 report, the Department of Defence said that due to underfunding, the number of flight hours per Gripen aircrew member was reduced from 224 to 110 per year. One of the biggest scandals of the Arms Deal is that South Africa bought military equipment it could not afford to operate. The Gripens cost R19.08 billion in 2007 up from the original R17.8 billion estimate for both 26 Gripens and 24 Hawks. In September 2013 South African Air Force Director of Combat Systems, Brigadier General John Bayne told the Seriti Commission that the Gripen fleet had flown 3 500 hours since 2008 while the 24-strong Hawk fleet had flown over 10 000 major accident-free hours since 2005. The Hawks have flown more hours as it is much cheaper to fly them than the Gripens. According to Bayne, it cost approximately R135 400 an hour to fly a Gripen, and R82 900 an hour to fly a Hawk. Botswana is supposed to be buying eight of the Gripen monstrosities. The question put forward by the Swedish journalist sought to unpack these numbers. And the President answered. He doesn’t know.”
President Khama – a former commander of the Botswana Defence Force – was in Stockholm on a three-day official visit from Monday upon the invitation of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfve. Khama’s visit to Sweden follows weeks of pressure by his country’s opposition who petitioned the Swedish authorities advising against the planned procurement of the Gripen aircraft, demanding that the transaction be abandoned. Speaking to journalists he said it was necessary to arm the military with modern equipment which would make their work effective. He was responding to a journalist who cited critics suggesting that the money used to procure the planes could be better spent on his country’s fledgling health and education sector. “You could say that even money for a single rifle for a soldier could be used to buy something. At the end of the day everything in our budget is scrutinised by our parliament,” he added. [APA]