Out of Arms Way
Election time is our one chance, as voters, to settle old scores and to extract promises from the politicians who, also just this once in four or five years, are frantically trying to ingratiate themselves with us. Experience has taught us that the promises we extract from politicians (more jobs, more schools, more child grants, protection for the environment no more battleships and moon rockets, jail big-time for corrupt officials and their corrupters etc etc.) may or may not be kept. But those are the scores we'll get to settle at the election thereafter.
As our readers know, we have a couple of pet scores to settle with Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. Two in particular : his role in getting us tied up in the arms deal; and his failure in last year's budget t make adequate provision for the helpless poor. Neither of them small matters, let us remind you.
In recent weeks the finance minister has gone some way to redeeming himself : he has substantially upped the budget and reach of those child support grants. They are necessary because people are starving to death now. But this has to be a temporary measure, or we could be headed down the slippery slope of dependency. What we really need is jobs. So may we recommend that Mr Manuel read our report on page 28 and take a hint?
Mr Manuel is a clever man. He has to know that, in South Africa, money misspent means no education, no job, now medical treatment, even death for people.
To have borrowed huge sums in foreign currency for up to 20 years for inappropriate and unnecessary armaments (which by their nature produce no income), was utterly reckless from a financial management point of view, quiet apart from its negative social impact. So much for the ANC's commitment to social change.
As if that were not bad enough, in signing the secret loan agreements to finance the arms, Manuel (secretly, he hoped) ceded ultimate control over South Africa's economic and financial policies to European banks and governments, and to the International Monetary Fund. Now how's that for a party that calls itself the African National Congress!
Easy-term funding arrangements through European export credit agencies are invitations to irrational purchases and to corruption. The consequences is that 95% of all third world debt owed to the UK is owed to the UK's Export Guarantee Department. South Africa's favourite arms supplier, BAe Systems, is by far the ECGD's largest client. (Tony Blair will have to explain that to his voters - but at least they got the jobs.)
But in SA, does a party that for a useless arms deal has put our collective necks into the noose of a "third world debt trap" - Argentina and Zimbabwe are tragic examples - deserve our vote?
Indeed, the "affordability study" produced by the Department of Finance (which Manuel also tried desperately to keep secret) declares :
The armaments procurements are distinguished from other government procurements by four key characteristics. The sums involved are extremely large; they involved fixed contractual commitments extending over long periods with high breakage costs; they are heavily import-biased; and their costs are offset by a set of associated activities (the NIPs) which cannot be guaranteed. These characteristics create a set of important and unique set of risks suggests that ... government could be confronted by mounting, economic, fiscal and financial difficulties at some future point.
We are only able to call Mr Manuel to account for the reprehensible role he has played in the arms deals because of the tenacity of a single brave citizen, Terry Crawford Brown, and a single brave and honest politician, Patricia de Lille?
When noseweek reader Jennifer Pols called the DA to complain, DA spokesperson Niki McQueen responded by email : "AWWWwww, geee, we're sorry." All of which suggests a party that has poor judgement, is treacherous even to friends - and just plain silly.
Ladies and gentlemen you have only four weeks to get your act together. Because then we get to vote!
With acknowledgement to Noseweek.