19 January 2014

South Africa: Questions Over SA's Mystery Satellite - DA

Photo: NASA
Satellite (file photo).

Johannesburg — There were many unanswered questions about a satellite reportedly commissioned eight years ago under the title "Project Flute", the DA said on Sunday.

"It is time, after more than eight years and R1 billion, for government to provide some straight answers about 'Project Flute'," Democratic Alliance spokesman on defence David Maynier said in a statement.

While the project was veiled in secrecy and handled by defence intelligence, Maynier said it appeared that the defence department froze the contract for the satellite with Russian company Mashinostroyenia for some time prior to 2008.

Maynier said he would ask Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to make a statement about the satellite project and would also request the inspector general for defence to probe the matter.

He would request access to the Auditor-General's report on the matter, and a special report of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence into the project in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The Sunday Times reported that it was unclear whether the satellite, of a kind often used for espionage, existed.

According to the report, the South African government signed a contact for the satellite with Mashinostroyenia in May 2006.

The company reportedly wrote a letter to government in 2008 complaining that payments were not received and then-defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota had frozen the contract.

In 2011, a letter from then-defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu to then-technology minister Naledi Pandor indicated the contract had been transferred to Pandor's department.

Pandor, Sisulu and Lekota could not provide information to the newspaper this week. The department of state security also declined to comment.

Defence spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said the project was classified, but would have been audited by the Auditor-General's office and discussed by the joint standing committee on intelligence.

The committee's 2009 annual report referred to an investigation into "a sensitive project of defence intelligence" which had been finalised, and a report on this made to then-president Kgalema Motlanthe. The content of the report has not been made public.

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