The Real Arms "Scandal"
The real scandal surrounding South Africa’s Strategic Defence Procurement Package is that so few people have been able to make so much noise on the basis of so few facts. And the media has almost without exception acted as uncritical participants in fuelling this furore.
As a result, a number of myths have been elevated within the media to accepted fact.
MYTH#1. The involvement of the Heath Unit is a test of government’s commitment to fight corruption. The exclusion of the Heath unit from the investigation into the arms procurement package does nothing to undermine the fight against corruption. There are sufficient permanent institutions dedicated to probing the expenditure of public finances and the conduct of public officials. These include the Auditor-General, Public Protector, National Director of Public Prosecutions and parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. The South African Police Service is also competent to deal with any allegations of criminal conduct.
There are sound and compelling reasons for the government not to include the unit in the investigation, given the ruling of the Constitutional Court that Heath’s position as head of the unit should be ‘regularised’ as soon as possible.
MYTH#2. The President does not respect the oversight role of Parliament. Some people have argued that the President was compelled by the report of the Public Accounts Committee to include the Heath Unit in the investigation. There is however nothing in law or the Constitution which requires this. The decision to provide the unit with a proclamation or not was the prerogative of the President alone, and does not suggest any disrespect for the oversight role of Parliament.
Instead the President went on national television to reaffirm government’s commitment to provide the Public Accounts Committee with any information or assistance that may be required of its ministers or departments. He said the government fully supported all lawful investigations into any matter pertaining to the defence acquisition.
MYTH#3. The ANC is trying to prevent a thorough investigation. Closely tied to the campaign around the Heath unit is a campaign to suggest that the ANC is trying to orchestrate a cover-up. Untrue allegations that ANC NEC members Tony Yengeni and Essop Pahad were trying to prevent a probe have been made in the media. In at least one instance, the newspaper responsible retracted its report acknowledging their failure to adhere to basic standards of journalistic practice.
These suggestions fly in the face of the ANC and the government’s commitment to ensuring that every assistance is provided to institutions involved in the investigation. In his national television address, President Mbeki insisted that all lawful investigations will continue, and that any wrongdoers, whoever they may be, ‘will meet their just deserts’.
MYTH#4. The arms procurement process is riddled with corruption. The impression created over several months of coverage is that the arms procurement process is riddled with corruption. There is no evidence to support such a sweeping conclusion.
What we know is that Auditor-General identified a number of concerns relating to the procurement process. On the basis of these concerns, the Public Accounts Committee saw fit to initiate further investigation. The ministers involved in the procurement process, while reaffirming their availability to the committee to address these concerns, have publicly responded to each of the issues raised in the Auditor-General’s report. These ministers remain convinced that the process was undertaken in the utmost integrity.
Other allegations are apparently contained in documents handed over to the Heath unit by PAC MP Patricia De Lille. These allegations have yet to be tested, with the Heath unit even refusing to disclose their contents to the Minister of Justice, the President or the public. In their assessment of the information, Western Cape Director of Prosecutions Frank Kahn and Advocate Jan Lubbe said their firm conclusion was that there was no prima facie evidence of criminal misconduct.
Despite the lack of solid evidence it is nevertheless important that all lawful investigations into the arms procurement package continue and are completed as soon as possible
With acknowledgement to ANC Today.