Publication: Business Day Date: 2005-01-07 Reporter: Tim Cohen Reporter:

Arms-Deal Report Cover-Up

 

Publication 

Business Day

Date

2005-01-07

Reporter

Tim Cohen

Web Link

www.bday.co.za

 

Further compelling evidence has come to light confirming that government forced through massive changes to the final report on the arms deal,  apparently in an attempt to protect the contractual integrity of the R30bn deal.

Draft versions of the Joint Report into the Strategic Defence Packages compiled by the auditor- general, the public protector and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions also reveal hitherto undisclosed differences between government and the defence force over the nature and extent of the arms acquisition process.

The draft version finally puts paid to repeated declarations by Auditor-General Shauket Fakie and various government ministers that no significant changes were made to the final report compared to the draft copies.

In fact, substantial changes were introduced, including:

 - the removal of strong objections from senior members of the defence force to buying more jet aircraft;

 - the influential role played by the late  defence minister Joe Modise in ensuring that the R15bn purchase of jet aircraft went through;

 - the pivotal role played by Modise in ensuring that the British-made aircraft Hawk aircraft were chosen rather than the much cheaper Italian Aermacchi MB339;

 - the removal of findings suggesting substantial shortcomings in the procurement process in almost all of the product-lines bought; and

 - the inclusion of sections which affirm the integrity of government's contracting position, even though no such conclusions appeared in the draft versions.

The draft versions of the report have come to light following a three-year legal battle between snubbed bidder and MD of CI Systems Richard Young in terms of  freedom of information legislation.

Young, who is seeking civil damages, was recently handed full draft copies of the arms-deal report, which was published in December 2001, after a series of judgments in his favour.

 Fakie declined to comment in detail on the reports yesterday, except to say  that he stood by the final report.

The final report was published after Fakie met with President Thabo Mbeki, who, while deputy president, was head of the ministers' committee that made most of the key decisions regarding the acquisition programme.

This meeting and the comparatively lightweight nature of the findings resulted in claims by opposition parliamentarians that the report was a "cover-up".

However, the claims will be bolstered by the draft versions of the report, which in many instances come to the exact opposite conclusion to the final version.

Yet a comparison between the draft and final versions of the report reflects that the main issue was not preserving the reputations of any individual involved, but seeking to ensure that government's contracting position was secure.

The final version of the report states baldly that: "No evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by government.

"There are therefore no grounds to suggest that government's contracting position is flawed."

However, earlier drafts make no such conclusion, and the basis for the  finding is unclear.

In many instances the contrary conclusion is reached. In one case, the draft version says explicitly that "fundamental flaws" were found in the selection process.

Young said yesterday that the difference between the final version and the draft copies demonstrated that the final version was "exceedingly sanitised".

It was sanitised to such a degree that nobody could use the report as the basis for a legal case against  government, he said.

"The changes are fundamental. There were short, sharp, concise auditor-type findings in the drafts, such as 'the whole process for was fundamentally flawed'."

The final report had been "dissembled", he said, with findings convoluted and mixed into the chapters.

He said that  the first drafts of the report started coming out in May through to October 2001.

Young  said that all the changes made  in this period were unexceptional.

"The huge changes happened between October 18-26.

"The drafts had gone to the presidency on October 4  while Fakie met with the president on or around October 16.

"It is very clear from the chronology that these changes happened; the only reasonable inference is that the changes happen at their instance".

Mbeki's office did not respond to questions on the issue yesterday.

With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen and the Business Day.