Publication: The Natal Witness Issued: Date: 2003-02-15 Reporter:

A Persistent Smell


Publication  The Natal Witness
Date 2003-02-15
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It is not surprising that yesterday this newspaper contained two prominent items relating to the controversial arms deal. No matter how often the government tries to say the matter is over and done with, its ramifications and aftershocks will be felt for a long time to come. The two items were, of course, the outcome of Tony Yengeni's trial for fraud and corruption, and the action of businessman Richard Young who is claiming R150 million damages for losses suffered because of alleged "serious irregularities" in the arms procurement process.

The transformation of radical activist and political exile Yengeni into an ostentatious establishment figure given to flaunting the trappings of wealth and success, is interesting enough in itself. Now, after months of denying wrongdoing, and trying to smother any proper investigation into the arms deal (which led to the disgusted resignation of ANC MP Andrew Feinstein) Yengeni has admitted that he committed fraud in failing to disclose to Parliament the huge "discount" he received on the purchase of a luxury vehicle. It was a favour at the hands of a firm with a large stake in the arms procurement bidding.

His admission of guilt on the fraud charge was, it seems, part of an American-style plea bargain. The equally serious charge of corruption (i.e. of unfairly influencing the award of contracts) has been dropped. There will be no more cans of worms opened during these court proceedings. It requires no clairvoyant powers, however, to predict that time and judicial process will bring to light other cans and other can-openers. Richard Young, for example, seems to be wielding an efficient kitchen gadget at the moment.

The Yengeni case leaves several vital questions in the air. Just how far did the flaws and corruption in the "arms deal" go? Will the ANC's pledge of clean and accountable government remain just fine words, or will appropriate action be taken? How will Parliament itself react to the fact that it was spectacularly deceived by one of its members --- a party Chief Whip and Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence to boot?

Most important of these, in our opinion, is whether the ANC will show that it is prepared to stand firmly and unequivocally by its stated ideals and beliefs; or whether in both domestic and international politics it will continue to place loyalty to old comrades above principle.

With acknowledgements to The Natal Witness.