The article Lindiwe Sisulu's fancy flights pure indulgence is bereft of context and real facts, writes Sandi Mbatsha, adviser to Lindiwe Sisulu.
This in itself is not surprising: the intention was not to inform but to tarnish her image. The article also reflects an alarmingly worrisome misunderstanding and ignorance of the defence function and environment.
For a start, it is not true that while minister of defence Sisulu undertook 203 trips using the Gulfstream aircraft. The minister had a dedicated aircraft, a Falcon 50, which she used for domestic official trips.
The intention of the Mail & Guardian's piece was to implant the image of a minister who is extravagant. Such an accusation flies in the face of a clean audit by the auditor general during her term of office at defence. The department can account for and justify its expenditure for the period under investigation. The outcome of the auditor general's report confirms Sisulu's resolve to provide good governance and accountability, as required by law, the Constitution and various conventions of fiscal management.
Second, the responsibilities of the defence minister are enormous. This job does not fit into the schedules of commercial flights. For that reason, a dedicated aircraft is provided for official duties. It was not uncommon for Sisulu to engage with members of the armed forces until the wee hours.
Third, it is common cause that the minister placed the improvement of the conditions of men and women in uniform at the top of the agenda. She visited almost every base, many in inaccessible areas, and interacted with ordinary soldiers to provide encouragement and familiarise herself with their daily struggle. Do you expect the minister to reach these outposts on horseback?
Fourth, Sisulu has always made the distinction between her office and her political life. For personal matters and political work, she took commercial flights. These facts are available and you could have verified them with ease. But I guess that would undermine the objective of the story – to throw mud and hope some of it sticks.
Fifth, Sisulu's achievements at the helm of department of defence and military veterans speak for themselves. In the past three years, she established the defence force service commission in recognition of the unique nature of the challenges of the defence environment. She introduced a raft of policies to ensure that the force became agile enough to respond to domestic and foreign challenges.
The attainment of the hitherto seemingly impossible task of a qualification-free audit is testimony to her dogged determination and resolute leadership. She has positioned the defence force as part of the solution to the skills crisis: the national youth service has been conceptualised and has undergone pilot studies. It is now ready for a full roll-out. These achievements are hard for the M&G to swallow and are hidden from the public. – Sandi Mbatsha, adviser to Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu