The Secretary of Defence, Dr Sam Makhudu Gulube, is in the US on a two-week trip to finalise the purchase of a mega-bling VIP jet for President Jacob Zuma that could cost the taxpayer $235 million (nearly R2 billion) if it goes ahead.

The 300-seater Boeing 777-200LR, earmarked as “ZA1”, will cost a whopping $80m to reconfigure to Zuma’s specifications on top of a $150m purchase price, Independent Newspapers has learnt.

Also included in the deal is a $28m Global Express 600 for the deputy president’s use – the total bill for the VVIP transport is $183m (more than R2.2bn).

Though negotiated on the basis of cabinet approval, according to information at Independent Newspapers’ disposal, the deal has not followed normal requirements that such procurements be put out to competitive tender.

Professor Sipho Seepe confirmed to Independent Newspapers that he had acted as a “middleman” between the Ministry and Boeing in pursuit of cabinet directives. It remains unclear whether Treasury was approached to invoke special powers to override the competitive tender specification on the basis of urgency.

Treasury, however, has remained tight-lipped on whether authorisation was given to the rerouting of governments funds from the failed Airbus deal as suggested by the Ministry of Defence.

Another deviation from normal practice mooted in the Defence Ministry’s apparent hastewas to acquire the planes via South African Airways – as opposed to the South African Air Force, the authority relevantly mandated for VVIP air travel.

Such a procedure would be possible, Independent Newspapers has learnt, under Treasury regulations. However, such procedures do not obviate the overriding requirement for going to a competitive tender process.

Finance Ministry spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane confirmed: “National Treasury was consulted, as is normal with matters of this nature.”

However, Treasury was not in a position to disclose its specific recommendations.

DA Defence spokesman David Maynier said: “It’s simply wrong to spend nearly R2bn… when so many people in our country are poor. I hope delegates at the ANC’s 2012 National Policy Conference ask President Jacob Zuma to explain how a R2bn presidential business jet will help our country tackle the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality?”