Bad payer, Madagascar loses its only military transport plane

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The President of the Malagasy Republic, Andry Rajoelina (center), hands the Casa CN-235 to the Air Force on June 24, 2019.

The story is that of a mismanagement in a country facing famine: more than 4 million euros were spent in vain by the Ministry of Defense of Madagascar to acquire a personnel carrier which, in the end, , was seized due to repeated defaults on payment deadlines.

On November 16, 2020, the owner of the aircraft, the French company Sofema specializing in the trading of used military equipment with poor countries, terminated its contract with Madagascar and regained full possession of the aircraft that was for several months immobilized at Lanseria airport in Johannesburg.

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In Antananarivo, the authorities are careful not to divulge the affair. “The plane will soon return to Madagascar. The Covid crisis explains this setback. We have no arrears and our relations with Sofema are good ”, feigned the Minister of Defense, General Richard Rakotonirina, in response to our questions. The situation is embarrassing to the highest peak in the state.

It was indeed President Andry Rajoelina who, the day after taking office in January 2019, gave the order to quickly acquire this aircraft to make it the highlight of the traditional military parade on the Independence Day of June 26. A schedule which apparently justified that the order was not placed by a call for tenders, but following a decree signed in May opening a direct purchase procedure authorized for “Certain categories of contracts of a confidential nature for defense and security”.

“Repeated payment defaults”

The Casa CN-235 repainted in the colors of Madagascar flew well over the capital during the national celebrations. But then, apart from a fortnightly humanitarian mission in February 2020, he remained in Johannesburg where Sofema has a maintenance platform capable of carrying out operations that the Big Island, for lack of infrastructure and qualified personnel, was not able to provide.

It is not the need for Madagascar to acquire this type of device, widely used for rescue operations during natural disasters, that raises questions, but the haste with which the operation was completed. To the point for the Ministry of Defense to have to request from Sofema the hire of pilots and mechanics to fly the aircraft as well as a maintenance and repair service.

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Additional services billed for several hundred thousand euros in addition to the 7.3 million price of the device. The sale contract with retention of title of June 3, 2019 and its amendments, as well as the letters of relaunch from Sofema, to which The world had access, show that the Ministry of Defense quickly found itself unable to cope with such an investment.

In his letter of June 21, 2021 addressed to General Richard Rakotonirina, the Chairman and CEO of Sofema, Guillaume Giscard d’Estaing, recalls “Repeated defaults by the Ministry of National Defense” which led to the resolution “Irrevocable” of the contract on November 16, 2020. After this date, to save its plane, Madagascar proceeded on November 26, December 16, 2020 then on May 21, 2021 to three payments of 578,000 euros.

An airplane from 1987

“Nevertheless, the sales contract being terminated, these payments cannot be used for the execution of this one and we therefore allocate these payments to the reduction of the debt of Sofema. (…) the balance of which now amounts, on the date of this letter and subject to any additional costs, to 4,973,658 euros ”, argues Mr. Giscard d’Estaing in his letter, specifying that the aircraft is in a situation of being remarketed.

The French company has as shareholders the big names in the defense industry in the aeronautical, naval and land fields. Airbus and Safran each hold more than 20% of the capital. Dassault Aviation, Thales, Naval Group and Renault Trucks Defense are also around the table. Its catalog offers a range of equipment with an often complicated past but within the reach of the least well-stocked purses.

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The Casa CN-235 chosen by the Madagascan president is part of the first generation of this transport aircraft designed by the Spanish Casa and the Indonesian manufacturer IPTN. Put on the market in 1987, it first served in the Botswana Air Force and then made a brief stint in Togo in 2012 before Sofema decided to buy the plane to preserve its reputation.

“I personally took this decision because Togo was not able to maintain it and I did not want anyone to be able to say that we had sold an aircraft that could not fly”, explains Guillaume Giscard d’Estaing. The aircraft had since been undergoing maintenance in Johannesburg and seemed to have difficulty finding a buyer.

A bill that continues to grow

“Madagascar is a courageous country, but it is not ready to receive a device of this nature. We have signed this contract in good faith, calling the attention of our client to the obligations to which he should comply in order to remain in compliance with international law. Unfortunately, we did not have interlocutors who were always up to date with aeronautics ”, continues the CEO of Sofema.

“The market in countries with low purchasing power is our specialty. Discussions are not always easy. We warn our clients, but we are not censors. Our role is not to prevent States from buying military equipment: the era of Tintin in the Congo is over. I showed a lot of flexibility before resolving the contract ”, specifies Mr. Giscard d’Estaing.

The contract signed with Sofema being under French law, the Malagasy government should turn to the Paris commercial court if it wanted to challenge the company’s decision in court. The amicable route does not seem to be completely closed, however. Andry Rajoelina and Guillaume Giscard d’Estaing spoke during the Malagasy president’s visit to Paris at the end of August.

The issue which further poisons relations between France and Madagascar is closely followed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While waiting for a hypothetical outcome, the bill continues to rise for the Malagasy, poor debtors of their president’s short-lived coup in the skies of Antananarivo.

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