Publication: The Mercury Issued: Date: 2003-05-22 Reporter: Jeremy Michaels

Arms Report a Cover-Up Claims DA



The Mercury

Date 2003-05-22


Jeremy Michaels

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Deputy President Jacob Zuma has dismissed opposition charges that the cabinet meddled with the report to parliament on the probe into the multibillion-rand arms deal, adding that the government would act if there was any truth in the allegations.

Answering questions in parliament on Thursday afternoon, Zuma said he was not aware of the cabinet giving instructions that the report should be changed.

"I don't think there was anyone who changed the report, but if there is such an official who did so with the aim of protecting the others, I think that information is very necessary so that we could follow it (up)," Zuma told the national assembly.

He said he was aware that it was standard procedure for "people concerned" to comment on reports submitted to the cabinet and this was the case with the report on the arms deal.

"What I am always aware (of) is that there is a procedure (whereby) concerned people are given the report to make their comments. On that basis, the final report is done. And that was the process that I think was followed," Zuma said.

He was responding to a question by Democratic Alliance MP Raenette Taljaard who charged that the cabinet had tampered with the draft reports on the probe into the arms deal in an attempt to protect government officials who had misled parliament in the early stages of the scandal.

Addressing Zuma, Taljaard said: "Revelations today have shown that the cabinet, of which you are a member, played a role in an extensive editing of the draft report of the arms investigation and made specific changes and alterations - some of which served to protect officials of the department of defence who misled the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in October 2000, in respect of Thales's involvement with African Defence Systems and conflicts of interest in respect of the Shaik brothers."

A daily newspaper reported on Thursday that the draft report to parliament by the Joint Investigation Team - comprising the auditor-general, the public protector and the national director of public prosecutions - was heavily edited before being published. The draft reports were released by auditor-general Shauket Fakie to C2I2 managing director Richard Young, who lost his bid for a contract in the arms procurement process, after he won a court case demanding access to the documents.

Taljaard asked Zuma to "tell the House whether and when cabinet will come clean on what specific requests it made during the course of the final compilation of the report".

She recalled that there were still "unresolved questions" regarding "rumours" about Zuma's involvement with Thales - the French arms manufacturer - in the arms deal saga.

A visibly angry Zuma replied: "I don't deal with rumours."

Taljaard said the sections of the draft report that dealt with these inaccuracies in the presentation to the standing committee were omitted from the final report and called on Speaker Frene Ginwala to order an immediate debate and "take the strongest possible action against any official or public office bearer who has misled the House".

With acknowledgements to Jeremy Michaels and The Mercury.