Publication: The Natal Witness Issued: Date: 2003-05-27 Reporter:

Opinion : Arms Deal



The Natal Witness

Date 2003-05-27

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With the Democratic Alliance calling for an immediate parliamentary debate and the United Democratic Movement for a full judicial inquiry, the government's handling of its multi-billion rand arms deal is once again under scrutiny. It seems that whatever facet of this matter is turned to the light, another flaw shows itself. This time the focus is on the report presented by the auditor general, the public prosecutor and the national director of prosecutions, and it appears that there are serious discrepancies between the drafts of this report and the version finally presented to parliament. A comparison of the documents reveals that certain key sections have been cut out, most suspiciously those dealing with gifts received by important decision-makers and with misleading statements by senior officials to parliament's standing committee on public affairs.

Auditor-General Shauket Fakie has already conceded that the report was edited before presentation to parliament, but repeatedly insisted that the changes were merely cosmetic. It now appears that the report was, in fact, censored. There is a significant difference between editing a document to correct its language and clarify its meaning, and censoring it by removing or altering significant statements. It is a difference which a person in Fakie's position ought to understand. If he is found to have misled Parliament both in altering the report and in his assurances about the changes, he would be seriously compromised. So, too, would senior members of the government, for the changes were made after consideration of the draft version by the executive.

Concern over the matter can only be heightened by the consideration that the draft documents have had to be wrung out of reluctant officialdom through a court order won by Richard Young, a losing bidder in the deal who has good reason to question the process. It is not appropriate in an open, transparent democracy for an individual to have to take court action to get access to public documents, and this in itself undermines confidence in other State measures such as the ongoing Scorpions' investigation. An enormous amount of money is at stake here, together with the political reputations of very powerful people and, in fact, the integrity of the state itself. A full and open inquiry into the whole arms deal is urgently needed

With acknowledgements to The Natal Witness.