Publication: Saturday Star Issued: Date: 2001-01-12 Reporter: Marvin Meintjies Editor:

Arms Probe Call Shows "Lack of Understanding"

Publication  Saturday Star
Date 2001-01-12
Reporter Marvin Meintjies
Web Link

The government says that no concrete facts have been presented to suggest that there has been corruption in the R43-billion arms procurement package. 

At the same time, the government hit out at parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and the auditor-general, which made calls for a thorough probe of the arms deal, as having "some lack of understanding of the procurement process as a whole". 

The four ministers involved in the deal - Public Enterprises Minister Jeff Radebe, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin - held a press conference at Johannesburg International Airport on Friday to put forward the government's position.

The state has sought to distance itself from any impropriety

They announced that Minister of Justice Penuell Maduna would on Monday make his recommendation on whether Judge Willem Heath's Special Investigating Unit should take part in the investigation. It has been argued that Heath's participation would give legitimacy to the probe. 

The government has sought to distance itself from any impropriety that may be uncovered, specifically with regard to subcontractors with links to the government. 

The official statement, read by Erwin, said: "The government is of the view that both the auditor-general's review and Scopa's report show that there was not enough time to properly go into this massive procurement process. 

"Regrettably, Scopa neither called the ministers to appear before it on its own, nor did it respond to the offer made by the ministers to address this committee.

"It is our view that the (auditor-general's) review and (Scopa) report were too cursory to do justice to this matter and have called into question the integrity of the government without justification."

Ballooned to R43-billion due to financing costs

"We have therefore decided to communicate to the country as a whole the information that will help to clarify the issues that are now the subject of much public speculation. This will be done on the first available occasion. Much time and unnecessary speculation would have been avoided if we had been afforded this chance at the outset."

The reason given for the controversial decision to buy the more expensive British Hawk fighter trainer, instead of the cheaper Italian Aeromacchi fighter trainer, was that the Hawk was closer in specification to the advanced Grippen fighter aircraft the SA Air Force had ordered. It was cogent that pilots graduated from the Hawk, not the Aeromacchi, to the Grippen fighter.

With regard to subcontractors, the statement said: "It should be pointed out that procurement does not deal with subcontractors. This has to be the contractual obligation of the prime contractor as it is they who must deliver reliable equipment and undertake the performance and delivery obligations. To insist that the government must be held to account for minor subcontracts is to misunderstand procurement.

"It is totally unwarranted to suggest that if anything untoward happens in the subcontract, then the contract between the government and the prime contractor is either flawed or corruptly entered into."

The statement said the procurement package ballooned from R30-billion to R43-billion due to interest payments and other financing costs, as well as currency fluctuations.

Despite the controversy and pending investigation, the government would implement the defence acquisition "to meet its constitutional obligations to the country and the national defence force".

Judge Aaron Ringera, Kenya's version of Judge Heath, is also in hot water. The Kenyan High Court ruled last month that the Anti-Corruption Authority was unconstitutional, basing its decision on similar grounds to South Africa's Constitutional Court. Both courts ruled that the units were part of the government's executive branch and that having judges head them violated the constitutional requirement for separation of powers between  executive and judiciary. 

With acknowledgement to Marvin Meintjies and the Saturday Star.