Millions for Phakalane Airways govt. flights must be questioned

By Pule Thole MPL, DA Northern Cape Provincial Spokesperson of Transport, Safety & Liaison:

The DA is concerned that the Northern Cape Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison’s attempt to revive the costly intra-provincial airline, known as Phakalane Airways, by legally binding government departments to make use of their services, translates into the abuse of taxpayers’ money to the tune of millions of rands.

During the department’s annual report presentation at the legislature yesterday, it came to light that the department was acting on an instruction from above to get the airline back in the airways. The mandate comes from a cabinet resolution that seeks to bind departments to participating in regular usage of the airline, by having them commit to purchase at least four-seats on the airline per week.

The department has gone as far as developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to be signed by departments to legally oblige them to make use of the airline. The Northern Cape Departments of Health, Economic Affairs and COGHSTA have already signed this MOU.

The airline cost the department R17 million in the 2014/2015 financial year. It was also responsible for R11,768 million worth of unauthorized expenditure in the same financial year. In the 2013/2014 financial the year, the airline was the cause of R3 million worth of irregular expenditure by the department.

The department yesterday explained that they were left with the hefty bill for the airline after departments failed to utilize Phakalane Airways to the extent that they had expected. The department indicated that they had sought legal counsel on the matter and were advised that departments were not legally obliged to utilize the airline.

It was previously reported in the media that state officials and MEC’s were refusing to make use of the airline due to the high costs of flights, with a round trip to Upington costing R 5 072,94 and a return flight from Kimberley to Springbok costing R 9 560,29.

It is unfathomable that the provincial administration seems intent on continuing with this costly, unprofitable project, especially considering the tight economic climate in which the country finds itself.

Cost cutting measures are being implemented and National Treasury is warning departments to tighten their belts, yet the Northern Cape government sees nothing wrong with squandering money on luxury travel, which is exorbitant in cost in relation to travelling by motor vehicle.

The DA will pose a question on the respective cabinet resolution to Premier Sylvia Lucas during next week’s scheduled Question Time session. The Premier must explain to the people of the Northern Cape how she justifies spending millions of rands worth of taxpayers’ money on a doomed NC airline.