Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-03-27 Reporter: Editor:

Greasing the Wheels

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-03-27
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IT HAS yet to be shown that there was a direct link between SA's multibillion-rand defence procurement and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace's apparent gift or longterm loan of a luxury vehicle to African National Congress MP Tony Yengeni. But the affair raises serious questions about the conduct of both the company and Yengeni.  

Yengeni did not have the political clout to influence the award of contracts in a significant way. Although DaimlerAerospace did win a subcontract, it was not a major beneficiary of the procurement. For example, its bids to supply jet fighters and highly sophisticated radar systems were not successful.  

If there was a gift or loan and the evidence seems compelling it is more likely to have been a low-level schmooze at a time government was moving towards rearmament. As chairman of Parliament's joint defence committees, Yengeni could influence broad defence policy and supply information about state plans.  

Yengeni seems to have bent the facts by claiming he had bank finance in the initial months the car was in his name. If he did not pay for the vehicle, he failed to declare a gift in terms of Parliament's code of conduct. At the very least, one would expect him to face some form of parliamentary sanction.  

But by focusing excessively on Yengeni, there is a risk that he may become the fall guy for more powerful interests in the arms saga. Attention may also be diverted from the dubious role of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace. DaimlerChrysler SA now says a senior employee bought the car before it was registered to Yengeni, and that the firm had no control over later events. How would the employee benefit personally by giving or lending his R350000 vehicle to a politician?  

The practice of lending cars to politicians, journalists and others on the nevernever, so that they can "test" them, seems widespread in SA. Favours of this magnitude go beyond creating legitimate goodwill they are a form of bribery. Business people cannot complain that corruption is harming SA's investment climate even as they grease the wheels themselves. 

With acknowledgement to Business Day.