Publication: Issued: Cape Town Date: 2001-12-05 Reporter: Editor:

Potential Risk for Influencing Arms Deal : Baqwa


Issued  Cape Town
Date 2001-12-05
Reporter Sapa
Gordon Bell


The joint investigating team (JIT), during the second day of questioning by MPs on Wednesday, acknowledged that there may have been a potential risk of an individual affecting the contracts chosen in the arms deal.

But the three agencies had found no evidence to suggest any single person had, in fact, influenced the selection process, Public Protector Selby Baqwa said.

He was replying to a question from Democratic Alliance public accounts spokeswoman Raenette Taljaard on whether suspended defence acquisition chief Chippy Shaik could have influenced the awarding of contracts.

"Potentially, looking at the process... (there) is room for an individual to affect the process... this was a question that agonised our minds."

The JIT had probed this possibility and found no evidence that he had influenced any of the contracts signed in the multi-billion rand deal.

"I'm not saying he (Shaik) didn't do it, but we didn't find any evidence that he did," Baqwa said.

Auditor-General Shauket Fakie said the investigators had left no stone unturned in probing Shaik's role in the process, including issuing him with 40 pages of questions and cross-examining him for two days.

He suggested that if the DA was not satisfied with the finding it was welcome to investigate themselves.

"If you (Taljaard) believe you can take this matter further you are more than welcome to," Fakie said.

Baqwa and Fakie were briefing the members of seven parliamentary committees -- defence, justice, finance, trade and industry, ethics, public service and administration and the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) -- on their report on the deal, tabled in Parliament last month.

The third member of the JIT -- National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka -- had to attend to other business and was not present on the second day of questioning.

Fakie said the report showed that Shaik had played a leading role in various decision-making committees that dealt with the deal.

It also found that he did have a conflict of interest in the procurement process -- with regard to his brother Schabir Shaik's interest in a company that ultimately won a contract -- and had not recused himself sufficiently.

However, this did not impact on the report's finding that government's contracting position was not flawed.

"In a case where clearly defined policies and procedures are laid down and some official breaks the rules... to turn around and say that government as a whole is responsible is not a practical way to go forward," Fakie said.

Baqwa, though, denied that the report "exonerated" government, saying the investigation had merely found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of government regarding the contracts.

For the second day running on Wednesday the briefing was characterised by the DA complaints that its members had not been given enough time to quiz the investigators, despite their questions dominating proceedings on both days.

The deputy chair of committees Farouk Cassim -- who chaired parts of the meeting -- said such accusations had no foundation.

The process had been completely open and transparent, with Mps having been granted ample opportunity to put their questions orally, as well as in writing, and the two-day session was also not the last chance they would have to interact with the agencies, he said.

Scopa chairman Dr Gavin Woods -- who took little part in the proceedings -- told Sapa during a break that the interaction with the investigators "has taken us forward a little in answering the bigger questions that the public want answered".

It was up to the committees, and Scopa in particular, to say what happened next.

The committee would either decide to investigate further or decide that "this is as far as we go".

He described the latter option as a "betrayal of confidence" in Scopa's role in the arms deal saga.

The JIT had not performed a "full exercise" in investigating whether Shaik had influenced the contracts signed, nor on the cost of the deal to the state and the industrial participation projects.

"But we have to acknowledge that they have done some work and that it (the investigation) has taken us forward a little," he said.

African National Congress spokesman in Scopa Vincent Smith said he expected the committee to complete "the paperwork" on the arms deal next week.

It would continue to perform its oversight role over the deal and monitor whatever came out of further investigations and future audits.

"We want to complete the paperwork so (the deal) is no longer an albatross around our necks," he said.

Scopa, through a resolution tabled in Parliament more than a year ago, initially called for a multi-agency probe into allegations of irregularities surrounding the deal.

All the committees are to submit at least an interim report on the deal to Parliament on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the DA on Wednesday renewed its call for government to cancel the remaining two tranches of the deal.

DA leader Tony Leon told journalists the party would launch a national petition demanding government cut back and contain the escalating cost of the deal.

With acknowledgements to Sapa.