Last week, Africa Confidential published an investigative report, revealing that Zambia was in the process of buying a new Presidential Jet fitted with a cutting edge military grade defence system which fires lasers at incoming heat-seeking missiles.
Minister of Transport and Communication Brian Mushimba has declined to answer questions around the deal, and referred questions to higher authorities in State House. This left Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary Stardy Mwale with the task of explaining the transaction, which he did but without responding specific concerns.
“I wish to state also that defence procurement is just what it is, it is informed by geopolitical defence and security considerations. We are not going to tell you on a daily basis why this military unit is based here and not there. We are not going to tell you the configuration of our defence assets, capability and range of assets and why they are being bought,” Mwale said.
He said the Ministry of defense through the Zambia Air Force has purchased five planes and explained that one of the planes would be used for VVIPs, one would be used to maintain airspace and monitor poaching, while the other three would be for commercial purposes.
But government sources have disclosed that apart from the five planes from Russia, which include one VIP Suckhoi airliner and the controversial Gulfstream G650 anti-missile presidential jet from Israel, the Zambian government is also buying two C-27J transport aircraft from Leonardo Aerospace Company Of Italy in a separate deal.
“I am sure you heard the Permanent Secretary [for Defence] admitting that they are buying fine planes from Russia, one for the President with luxury specifications. That is the Suckhoi airliner. Then there is the Gulfstream 650 extended range which is coming from Israel. But apart from those six, there is now another consignment of military transport planes coming from Italy. In fact a part payment was actually made on this procurement already. So the total is eight planes purchased under the defence modernization committee,” sources explained.
So this scandal is even bigger than what has been exposed to the public. As we speak, I can tell you that arrangements are being made to send pilots abroad for special training in flying this Gulfstream G650. Every one knows the truth around this and that’s why they are quiet, leaving it to Stardy Mwale to handle. Are you not surprised that the Minister of Transport is distancing himself from it? Why, it’s because he knows that this is a complicated issue and he can burn his fingers. Stardy Mwale has been deeply involved in this, so he has no option but to take the bullet and defend.”
The sources said there was documented proof showing that Zambia got a loan from Israeli bank to finance the purchase of planes.
“Simply ask the government to deny that they got a US$400 million loan from the Israel Discount Bank for Defence Project. This is information that is in public domain. Look at the 2017 Annual Economic Report released by this Ministry [of Finance], its there, clearly tabulated. They got another US$55.6 million from Hapalim Bank of Israel, its there in the report,” the sources narrated.
“So it will be interesting to hear what government has to say about the loans which are already in public domain. How can they deny? Now, the biggest scandal is around the Gulfstream 650 extended range because of the price. This is a plane that you can buy for US$70 million, but we are buying it at a higher price. If anything the figures that Africa Confidential is quoting are way lower than the actual cost the government wants to pay. This is not a question of priority, but corruption because the military grade specifications on this plane do not make sense.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli business arena publication “Globe” reports that the deal between the African Country (Zambia) and Elbit Systems is worth US$240 million.
“The company will supply equipment for meeting the operational needs of an entire army in an African country. Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems Ltd today reported a $240 million deal to supply a variety of defense systems to an African country. Elbit Systems declined to state what country was involved, explaining that the country did not want its large-scale procurement of weapons systems to be exposed,” reported the Globe.
“Under the terms of the agreement with the African customer, Elbit Systems will supply various weapons systems within two years.”