Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2000-11-14 Reporter: Steven Swindells Editor:

Watchdogs Bare Teeth at SA Arms Deal

Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2000-11-14
Reporter Steven Swindells
Web Link

Johannesburg - SOUTH African regulators have started laying the groundwork for a massive multi-agency probe into the country’s controversial multi-billion rand arms deal with European defence contractors. The investigation aims to get to the bottom of allegations of corruption involving government officials, which could turn out to be the most serious cases since the ruling African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994. 

Judge Willem Heath, head of the Special Investigations Unit into corruption, Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, Public Protector Advocate Selby Baqwa and representatives of the Investigations Directorate for Serious Economic Offences (Idseo) and the National Prosecuting Authority met with other interested parties to determine the structure of the forensic investigation into the weapons purchase. 

Initial areas of investigation will be on sub-contractors in South Africa, flawed procedures, possible exercise of undue influence on the contract process and the failure of government to reveal the true cost of the deal at the time.

The R43bn deal for German corvettes and Anglo-Swedish jet fighters has been mired in controversy after a parliamentary inquiry questioned tendering procedures and why government underestimated the cost of the hardware which will be used to modernise South Africa's armed forces.

Fresh controversy was sparked by a weekend newspaper report that President Thabo Mbeki's right hand man, Minister of the Presidency Essop Pahad, had  attempted at an ANC meeting to derail the planned investigation to protect Mbeki. 

Allegations of bribery and corruption have tainted the R29.9bn deal with firms from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Britain and France from the start. A preliminary study by the state's auditor-general called for a forensic audit after finding serious flaws in procedures while parliament's public accounts committee criticised cabinet for failing to disclose the true cost of the deal.

Widely trumpeted offset deals used by the government to defend the purchases in terms of 65 000 new jobs and technology transfer were unlikely to materialise, the committee ruled. Investigators are also expected to address a report alleging that a R10m “bung" was paid to a former cabinet minister for facilitating the purchase of German corvettes.

The Mail & Guardian reported that another R11m had been paid to a group of South African politicians and officials from a European manufacturer as a "success" fee.

The paper has also reported that firms with close links to the head of the military's weapons procurement committee were awarded most local contracts. No one in the defence department's committee had to formally declare a conflict of interest. - Reuters

With acknowledgement to Steven Swindells and the Mail & Guardian.