Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2000-11-01 Reporter: Sapa Editor:

Navy Chief Warns of Delays

Publication  Business Day
Date 2000-11-01
Reporter Sapa
Web Link

Vice-admiral says investigation into defence procurement programme will have very serious cost repercussions.

DELAYS in SA's defence procurement programme because of a pending probe into the deal would have serious cost implications, the departing SA Navy chief, Vice-Admiral Robert Simpson-Anderson, said yesterday.

"That is going to add a tremendous amount of money to the cost of these programmes. If we tell the ship-builders now to hold back for another three or six months, this is going to have very serious repercussions," Simpson-Anderson said.

Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee said on Monday it wanted the R30bn arms deal to be the subject of a special investigation by at least five independent agencies. The committee found that there might have been "undue influence" in the deal's main government-to-government contracts. 

It recommended, among other things, that the integrated management system of four new patrol corvettes be investigated. On his last day in office, Simpson-Anderson said yesterday the navy give its full co-operation to the inquiry.

"In any event, with the navy contracts we are talking about subcontractors that are unhappy. There are not problems with the way in which the contracts took place for the ships overall," he said. "So, I don't have sleepless nights."

Asked about the operational readiness of the navy he was leaving behind, Simpson-Anderson said limited funds  had been a debilitating factor. As a result, ships at sea were not maintained at full readiness. "We decided to drop the operational readiness in order to have as many ships as possible at sea for possible peace-time contingencies," Simpson-Anderson  said. "Not all our missiles and torpedoes work, and not all our guns are fully operational."

Corners also had to be cut in the refitting of some vessels. Simpson-Anderson said that in one instance, there was not enough money to clean the fuel tanks of a support ship. "The ship came out of its refit looking very good.

"But we knew that in a couple of years' time there was going to be a problem because the tanks were not cleaned." Turning to training, he expressed concern at the rate at which members of the navy were being poached by private companies. Many of these companies had stopped spending money on training, saying openly that the armed forces were doing this for them.

Trained navy staff were easy prey for the private sector as they were underpaid. "I cannot guarantee that we will have sufficient people to man the new vessels we are acquiring. It will largely depend on whether government will decide to properly remunerate our people," Simpson-Anderson said. Simpson-Anderson formally handed over command of the navy to his successor Vice-Admiral Johan Retief at a ceremony in Pretoria last night after a naval career spanning almost 40 years.

He said at the time he took over the navy that the mood was not good and the morale was going down. Simpson-Anderson said: "A retrenchment of more than 20% of our personnel two years previously had left the navy scarred in terms of expertise and morale."

He said the cancellation of two major projects a year earlier had cast a shadow of doubt on the future of the navy. Budgets continued to be cut and fund allocations continued to be based on historical needs of wars of the past instead of the needs of the future.

"But," Simpson-Anderson said, "we had one strength: we had people with courage, perseverance and wisdom, people who knew the art of good timing, (and) who worked together with resolve to shape a new future for the navy." - Sapa. 

With acknowledgement to Sapa and Business Day.