Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-05-21 Reporter: Paul Kirk, Tim Cohen

Draft Shines Light on Shadowy Details

 

Publication 

Business Day

Date 2003-05-21

Reporter

Paul Kirk, Tim Cohen

Web Link

www.bday.co.za

 

It was not what was left in Shauket Fakie's report, but what was left out, that really matters

Two words written in longhand on a draft version of the auditor-general's arms deal investigation report say simply "consider removing".

The heading next to the words is: Gifts received.

This advice was heeded since this heading, the details of the gifts, who gave them and why, do not appear in the final version.

Auditor-general Shauket Fakie acknowledges that the handwriting is his. He also acknowledges that the draft copy of the report is the same copy he discussed with President Thabo Mbeki before it was published.

Yet Fakie is adamant that discussing the report with senior members of government before publication was in terms of "best practice on reporting".

He says he was not unduly pressured to remove any part of the report, nor was it improper to exclude from the final report what at first glance appears to be evidence of corruption.

Fakie says the three short paragraphs in the gifts received section do not specifically conclude that prima facie evidence of corruption was found.

"It merely states that a gift was given in the open and there was a dispute as to whether it was properly disclosed in the gift register," Fakie says.

The amount involved was not large, about R7000, and Fakie points out that the incident was passed on to the national directorate for public prosecutions for follow up and possible criminal investigation.

This is consistent with Fakie's general argument that what was left out of the final, published report into SA's arms deal was either insignificant, or left out deliberately because it was under investigation by the Scorpions.

In fact, he says, the sections in the final report regarding the losing bidder and major complainant in the procurement process, CI, were longer and more detailed than the draft version.

What is not explained is why government and the auditor-general have gone to such the extraordinary lengths to prevent the publication of the draft report if the differences were insignificant.

When CI MD Richard Young originally applied for copies of the draft report in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, the case was opposed by the auditor-general, the directorate and the public prosecutor. Even when the case went against the defendants, they sought to appeal. Fakie claims the decision to abandon the appeal was done in "good faith" following an agreement between the parties.

As part of the agreement, Young was handed 751 pages of reports, including the complete version of the public protector's draft report, as well as the chapter of the auditor-general's report that dealt with Young's case.

The irony is that of the 751 pages provided to him, less than 200 pages were records that Young had not himself provided in the first place.

Young claims that Fakie submitted an affidavit in which he affirmed that the drafts were not materially changed in any way when the final version was put together. However, says Young, the draft that is now in the public domain shows major changes. This, says Young, is on the face of it a case of perjury, a claim that Fakie vociferously denies.

At the centre of this seemingly arcane dispute is not only the reputations of senior government ministers and bureaucrats but one of the most fraught incidents of the procurement process.

It has leaked out that one of the beneficiaries of the major contracts that were part of the deal was a company in which Schabir Shaik is a director and has a significant shareholding.

The fact that his brother Chippy Shaik was head of the procurement process has long been thought suspicious, not only by losing bidders but also by government investigators.

While the legal process has been unwinding, Chippy Shaik has been suspended and then subsequently dismissed, although he is currently appealing against the decision.

The draft document lifts the curtain a fraction on the murky world of arms procurement.

The auditor-general is meant to guard the public interest in this treacherous terrain. The publication of the draft report asks a perennial question: who guards the guardsmen?

With acknowledgements to Paul Kirk, Tim Cohen and the Business Day.