Hearings on the replacement of F-16s for the Defence Ministry will last two days instead of one, the Chamber’s Defence Commission decided on Tuesday at a tense session. No fewer than 27 hearings had been scheduled for Wednesday, which would have been a monster day and it was doubtful whether parliamentarians would have enough time for the questions they needed to ask to clarify the thorny issue.
The persons scheduled to appear before the Commission include many military officers, such as “Colonel X”, according to whom Lockheed Martin’s studies on the possibility of prolonging the use of the F-16s should be sent to the head of Defence and the Minister.
The legislators were able to consult two audits that had been conducted, after it was discovered that these audits existed but had been held back by the hierarchy of the Air Component of the Armed Forces.
Many of the parliamentarians questioned the confidential nature of the two audits and their annexes while the absence of translations into French was also deplored. At the end of a vote that was somewhat curious, the Defence Commission asked for them to be translated. In the ruling majority, the Reformist Movement, MR, the only francophone party in the coalition, abstained, while the Christian Democratic and Flemish, CD&V, party supported the request.
The meeting revealed once again the sensitive nature of the case, which represents billions of euros. The opposition has accused the Government of lack of transparency. However, Defence Minister Steven Vandeput (New Flemish Alliance, N-VA), supported by Commission Chairperson Karolien Groseman (N-VA), said the documents had been held back because of their nature and because their authors wished them to be treated as confidential.