Publication: The Natal Witness Issued: Date: 2003-03-10 Reporter: Sue Segar

Decision Due on Arms Deal Papers



The Natal Witness

Date 2003-03-10


Sue Segar

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Businessman has demanded to see documents detailing the procurement process

Richard Young, the former Pietermaritzburg man who lost a R150 million bid to supply the information management system for the South African Navy's new Corvettes, will know this week whether his bid to gain access to documents crucial to his case will be granted.

On Thursday the Pretoria High Court will decide whether an appeal against Young's application for access to the documents will be successful or not.

And, in addition to Young's action, another important court case - aimed at having South Africa's arms deal declared null and void - will resume in the Cape High Court on March 19.

Amid growing concern in civil society over the contentious arms deal, Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (Ecaar) has applied to the Cape High Court, on behalf of "all poor South Africans", for a cancellation of the deal. The organisation - which has projected the final cost of the deal at about R114 billion - has also sought an order for all related foreign loan agreements to be set aside.

The two court cases are expected to put the spotlight on the government's role in the arms procurement process.

Last year, Young applied to court to gain access to documents relating to the government's multi-billion rand arms deal and to the work done by the joint investigating team appointed by Parliament to probe the arms procurement process.

Young lost the bid to supply the information management system for the German-built Corvettes after being led to believe, for years, that the contract was his. The personal and financial loss he suffered led him to take the matter to court.

Young believes his bid failed because of serious irregularities in the procurement process - and is suing the government, Armscor and the French-owned company that won the contract, African Defence Systems, for R150 million in damages. He also has four defamation cases against key players in the deal.

In particular, Young wants to see the initial drafts of the joint team's report that were submitted to the Defence Department and to a cabinet committee, before being sent back for revision, effectively, he believes, sweeping vital information under the carpet.

Young believes the initial drafts contain information crucial to his cause.

Last November, the Pretoria High Court ruled that Defence Minister Mosiua Lekota, Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, former Public Protector Selby Baqwa and National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka must provide Young with the documents, but Fakie and the other members of the joint investigating team are seeking leave to appeal against the judgment.

The case will set an important legal precedent for the interpretation of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, which gives citizens the right to apply for access to public documents.

At the time when the joint investigation team members appealed, Young said he found it "unbelievable" that public watchdogs appealed against a judgment that is "so clearly in the public interest".

In the second court action, Ecaar's South African chairman, anti-arms activist Terry Crawford-Browne, lodged the legal action in November 2001, listing President Thabo Mbeki and Manuel as the first and second respondents.

The campaign, which is gaining momentum among NGOs and members of civil society around South Africa, revolves around the government's failure to heed the plight of poverty-stricken South Africans. It also alleges that the offset job creation promises from foreign arms contractors are "scams".

"Our argument, in summary, is that the arms deal is strategically, economically and financially irrational, and is therefore unconstitutional," Crawford-Browne said recently.

"The arms deal also limits the ability of the government to meet the commitments to social and economic rights established in the Constitution, the costs having already escalated from R30 billion to a recent estimate of R67 billion."

Crawford-Browne confirmed that the matter will be heard in the Cape High Court on March 19 and 20.

With acknowledgements to Sue Segar and The Natal Witness.