Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2003-09-19 Reporter: Anesca Smith

D-Day for Arms Deal




Date 2003-09-19


Anesca Smith

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Cape Town - If government again ignores a court order, the arms deal may be cancelled altogether.

In March this year, the Cape High Court ordered the department of finance to hand over documents on the affordability of this transaction to the Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (Ecaar) within ten days. However, the department has still not handed the complete affordability study into the arms deal to Ecaar.

Ecaar chairperson, Terry Crawforde-Brown, claims government will not be able to meet its socio-economic responsibilities, as set out in the Constitution, because of the cost of the transaction.

He said the transaction would cost far more than was originally estimated, because the rand will probably weaken quicker over the next few years than was expected. He is of the opinion that the transaction, initially estimated at about R30bn, could cost about R370bn by 2019.

Crawforde-Brown said members of the department of finance warned cabinet in August 1999 about the financial risks of the arms acquisition programme, but Finance Minister Trevor Manuel ignored these warnings and signed the loan agreements and guarantees in January 2000.

Government opposed Ecaar's application to have the transaction declared void. On March 20, 2003, the organisation applied for documents on the affordability of the transaction and the order was granted within six days.

Crawforde-Brown said they have seen only 28 pages of the estimated 700-page affordability study. These were only handed over after Ecaar threatened the department with contempt of court.

If government ignores the court order again, it might be prevented from defending itself in court. This could mean that Ecaar's application, to have the transaction cancelled, would be successful.

Crawforde-Brown argued that the South African taxpayer would not be responsible for penalties if the country cancels the transaction at this stage.

"If the court decided to terminate the transaction, the European taxpayers (those countries who sold the arms package) will have to pay. The constitutions of countries receive precedence over international treaties," Crawforde-Brown said.

He said it seems as if more and more South African courts are tired of government ignoring court orders such as in the case of the Treatment Action Campaign.

With acknowledgements to Anesca Smith and News24.