Publication: Defence Systems Daily Issued: Date: 2000-11-17 Reporter: Leon Engelbrecht Editor:

The South African Strategic Defence Acquisition Probe Continues

Publication  Defence Systems Daily
Date 2000-11-17
Reporter Leon Engelbrecht
Web Link

The South African Parliament's standing select committee on public accounts will again be discussing the country's controversial strategic defence acquisition packages on Monday. The Johannesburg business daily, Business Day, today reports the meeting will consider the basis on which a proposed probe will be conducted.

Five investigative agencies met this week to work out details of the probe and the finances needed to pursue a successful investigation. Judge Willem Heath, head of the special investigating unit into corruption, Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, Public Protector Selby Baqwa and representatives of the Investigations Directorate: Serious Economic Offences and the National Prosecuting Authority met interested parties to determine the structure of the forensic investigation into the arms deal on Monday.

Gavin Woods, chairman of the public accounts committee, as well as Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille who first levelled allegations of corruption three years ago, and Terence Nombembe, CEO in the auditor-general's office, were at the meeting.

Woods said Monday's meeting would be followed up with another probably today during which the legal mandates of the various investigation units would be considered. Business Day reports that the unprecedented multi agency probe plans "to get to the bottom of allegations of corruption involving government officials, which could turn out to be the most serious case since the ruling African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994."

The standing committee strongly criticised cabinet last month after it appeared the original cost of the contracts increased from R30 billion to R43.8 billion in the past year. It questioned why this was not made public. The committee also heard the final cost could be as much as R60-billion while it was unlikely the promised offset of R104 billion and 65,000 new jobs would materialise. 

The paper reports initial areas of investigation will be on subcontractors 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. Fresh controversy was sparked by a weekend newspaper report that President Thabo Mbeki's right-hand man, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, had attempted at an ANC meeting to derail the planned investigation to protect Mbeki. Pahad denied the report in the paper but left unchallenged the  paper's statement, based on an unnamed ANC source, that Deputy President Jacob Zuma had rebuffed Pahad's move.

Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin has dismissed as "nonsense" the contention that defence department head of procurement Chippy Shaikh should not have been part of the controversial arms deal. "To suggest that anyone with a relative in the private sector should not have a role in state procurement is nonsense. No country would be able to function like that," Erwin said. Shaikh told Parliament last month that his brother Schabir is a director of one of the suppliers, African Defence Systems, while his wife, Zarina, was an employee there.

Erwin also said allegations that the whole arms deal was "corrupt and rotten" were totally untrue and that if the investigation revealed any corruption at all, "action will be taken no matter whom" it might implicate. 

With acknowledgement to Leon Engelbrecht and Defence Systems Daily.