Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2001-11-15 Reporter: Sapa Editor:

Report : Threats and Disbelief


Publication  News24
Date 2001-11-15
Reporter Sapa
Web Link

Cape Town - Reaction to the eagerly anticipated report of the joint investigating team's probe into the arms deal on Thursday ranged from government threats to pursue those responsible for the investigation being launched, to disbelief by some parties.

The report by Auditor General Shauket Fakie, Public Protector Bulelani Ngcuka, and Public Protector Selby Baqwa was tabled in Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

Briefing the media, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the finding that there was no evidence of "improper or unlawful conduct" by the government, and no grounds to suggest its contracting position was flawed, should lay to rest all kinds of allegations that were made against it.

"(But) in the light of the damage to our country, caused by unfounded allegations of massive corruption on the part of the government and reputable international companies, government will institute its own investigations to ascertain the source of these allegations and the purpose they sought to achieve."

Lekota said now that the facts were there, government hoped that all South Africans, especially those who called themselves political leaders, as well as the media, would handle the report's findings and recommendations in the same spirit.

'No need for review'

The decisions of the arms acquisition process stood. None of the primary contracts were affected in any way by the report and there was therefore no need to review them, Lekota said.

His views were echoed by Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin, who said the contracts "remain intact, they are not flawed, we continue with the deal".

Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille, who was at the forefront of initial allegations of misconduct surrounding the deal, said in a statement the report was a "white-wash and a sad cover-up".

The investigation had been flawed from the start, as it had excluded "the civil aspects that covered the validity of the contracts and procurement procedures".

This would have enabled the government to cancel "fraudulent contracts and divert those resources to fighting poverty and Aids, which would have shown South Africa where the government's real priorities lies", she said.

Private contractor 'vindicated'

Private defence contractor Richard Young welcomed a finding that defence acquisition chief Chippy Shaik had a conflict of interest in the procurement process.

"That certainly vindicates my position," he said.

Young's company, CCII Systems, was originally listed by the navy as the preferred supplier of combat technology for its four new corvettes, but lost the contract to the Thomson Group and African Defence Systems (ADS).

Shaik's brother Shabir is a shareholder in Thomson, which has an interest in ADS.

Young on Thursday reiterated that Shaik's conflict of interest led to the awarding of the contract to his brother's companies.

Chippy Shaik referred enquiries to his lawyer, Terry Mahon, who said he would only comment after studying the report.

Shabir Shaik blamed the finding on his brother's conflict of interest on what he described as flaws in the acquisition system.

Vague procedures

Procedures on how such conflicts should be handled were vague, he said.

"Because of a weakness in the system, my brother and I have become the targets."

Comment on the report's findings on the involvement of former defence minister Joe Modise could not be obtained.

The report said Modise's involvement in a company that benefited from arms deal offsets was "extremely undesirable".

Approached for reaction, his attorney, Steve Friedland, said: "You should speak to Mr Modise."

He declined to provide his client's telephone number.

Defence sources indicated that Modise's health had deteriorated to the extent that he was spending more time in hospital than at home. The former minister has cancer.

He was actively involved in the procurement process before his retirement.

'Committed to fulfilling obligations'

One of the prime contractors in the defence package, British Aerospace (BAE), was on Thursday still studying the report.

But, BAE South African spokesperson Linden Birns said: "We remain committed to fulfilling our obligations in terms of the contract."

Democratic Alliance spokesperson Raenette Taljaard said the party would issue a "considered response" on Friday.

However, the fact that the executive has been "exonerated" should not detract from the key findings of improper conduct and gifts and benefits that "oiled the wheels of the acquisition process, and the clear breakdown of morality and ethical conduct", which this implied.

New National Party media director Francois Beukman said in a statement the report "raises more questions than it provides answers".

"We are not satisfied with the final product."

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said his party was not surprised that "these agencies have produced a celebrated palace verdict".

The report "has been tampered with by the executive".

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe said the report was premature, as certain aspects and individuals were still being investigated.

In another statement, Freedom Front MP Pieter Groenewald agreed, saying the facts that the Scorpions still had to question certain MPs, and that the Speaker interfered in the process, created the impression that the report could not be complete, "as certain witnesses must still be heard".

With acknowledgement to Sapa and News24.