20/09/2013. SA National Defence Force, Lt General Solly Shoke at the Arms Procurement Commission in Pretoria. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Johannesburg - While South Africa’s soldiers on peacekeeping and other missions face shortages of equipment, SANDF chief Lieutenant-General Solly Shoke spent R100 000 on a first-class flight to Malaysia, according to DA MP David Maynier.

He has asked Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu to investigate not only the cost of the ticket to attend a defence show, but also hotel and other costs related to the general’s attendance, alongside two other officers, at the Defence Services 2014 exhibition and conference in mid-April.

Shoke’s travel came at a time when the Treasury’s austerity regulations banned first-class flights and limited hotel stays and luxury car hire, alongside the curtailing of departmental budgets for catering, consultants and the like.

“What is even more remarkable is that Lieutenant-General Shoke’s decision to fly first-class on Emirates was apparently approved by the Secretary of Defence, Dr Sam Gulube, who is the accounting officer of the Department of Defence,” Maynier said.

“It’s wrong for the chief of the defence force to spend a fortune on first-class flights when ordinary soldiers, serving on the frontlines, do not have the equipment they require to properly execute their missions because of budget constraints in the defence force.”

The DA MP has also asked that the auditor-general probe all of Shoke’s international travel since 2011, in order to determine whether first class-air travel was his preference.

Maynier, who has described the first-class travel as “a monumental error of judgment”, said the SANDF chief insisted travelling not only first class, apparently due to his status, but also on Emirates.

“The airline advertises its super-luxury first-class suites as having individual sliding-door partitioning, and privacy partitions in the central seats, all equipped with mini-bar, ambient lighting and own vanity table.

“But if the defence secretary agreed to the first-class flight, and a document has permitted it as a deviation from the Treasury’s regulations, it may be argued that there was no case to answer to the auditor-general,” he added, pointing out that “effectively, it boils down to a choice of priorities and values”.

Attempts to contact the SANDF for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

The Star