Minister mum on R1,2bn ‘spy’ satellite

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says she will not be drawn into public discussion on Project Flute, the name of a secret contract reportedly involving a defence intelligence satellite.

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Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says she will not be drawn into public discussion on Project Flute, the name of a secret contract reportedly involving a defence intelligence satellite.

“The minister has refused to be drawn into discussing matters of security of the state in the public domain,” her ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

This follows calls by opposition MPs for Mapisa-Nqakula to clarify whether reports that a R1,2bn South African “spy” satellite is set to be launched next month are correct.

In a statement on Wednesday, Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said the minister “must tell us whether the Kondor-E satellite, reportedly scheduled to be launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, on 27 February, is being launched for defence intelligence”.

Maynier said it was known that in 2006, at an initial cost of R1,2bn, a contract was signed with a Russian company — NPO Mashinostroyenia — to develop a Kondor-E radar imaging satellite for defence intelligence under Project Flute.

African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley on Wednesday also questioned the project, seemingly funded by Mapisa-Nqakula’s department through a secret account.

“The ACDP has called on the minister of defence to account for the spending and clarify the situation regarding the alleged development and existence of a secret spy satellite costing more than a billion rand,” she said in a statement at the time.

Dudley said scrutiny of defence department budgets between 2006/07 and 2013/14 apparently showed Defence Intelligence “had channelled R2,87bn through the secret special defence account, some of which is going to ‘development of a strategic information collection capability’.”.

In its statement on Thursday, the defence ministry said care had to be taken “to ensure that information that secures our territorial integrity should not be compromised simply to gain political points”.

It said Mapisa-Nqakula had “once again vowed to protect the SANDF [South African National Defence Force] as a national asset that serves all South Africans without being subjected to political manipulation of any kind”.

Further, the minister was dismayed “at attempts by those who seem to want to undermine our security and information, and questioned whose interests they serve”.

It said members of parliament were fully aware of parliamentary protocols and procedures in raising or discussing sensitive matters of such a nature.  — Sapa

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