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Answers sought after R1.2bn satellite goes missing

The Times Live published a story on the 19th of January, 2014, detailing the story of a missing satellite that has, over the course of almost eight years, cost South African taxpayers more than a billion rand.

On the same day, Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier issued a statement on Politicsweb about the satellite, which was commissioned by Defence Intelligence in 2006 from Russian company NPO Mashinostroyenia but which has not yet materialised, despite the eight-year gap.

In it, he challenges the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to “come clean” about the “seemingly bungled development of a Kondor-E radar imaging reconnaissance satellite”.

So far, however, government has kept mum about it, with questions directed by the Sunday Times to Naledi Pandor (Minister of Science and Technology from 2009 to 2012) and Lindiwe Sisulu (Minister of Defence and Military Veterans from 2009 to 2012 and current Joint Standing Committee of Intelligence member) being redirected to Secretary of Defence, Dr. Sam Shulube, who would not comment on the matter as it was “classified”.

Here are a few pertinent facts about the satellite, as outlined by Maynier’s statement on Politicsweb:

“Project Flute”, later revised to “Project Consolidated Flute”, was to be a surveillance satellite capable of imaging terrain through cloud cover and at night. It is unclear whether it was to be used for spying or whether the actual intended application was something more innocuous.

It was to be built and launched by Russian company NPO Mashinostroyenia on behalf of South Africa. It is believed the contract was frozen in 2008 because of the discovery of a flaw in the terms that allowed no direct control by South Africa’s Defence Intelligence agency. Obtaining images created by the satellite would incur additional costs, and significant delays as NPO Mashinostroyenia arranged for their delivery, leaving Defence Intelligence entirely dependent on NPO Mashinostroyenia.

Maynier’s statement says that two reports were prepared on the situation, one by the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and another by the Auditor-General’s office, but that the current status of the project is unknown, apart from being “on-going”.

What is known, according to Maynier’s statement is that NPO Mashinostroyenia launched the same type of satellite ordered by South Africa in 2013, and had announced plans to launch another for “an undisclosed foreign customer” in 2013. As things stand now, however, it is unclear whether that second satellite was South Africa’s.

Maynier goes on to say that it’s time for the South African government to provide answers, as it’s eight years on with over a billion rand spent on a satellite that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist.

Specifically, he has requested access to the report written by the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence under the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000, and asked that Nqakula make a statement in Parliament about the satellite and Defence Intelligence’s handling of the contract.

He has also asked the Inspector General for Intelligence, Advocate Faith Radebe to investigate the matter.

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