Publication: Sunday Independent Issued: Date: 2005-01-09 Reporter: Chiara Carter

Arms Deal Documents Reveal Bullying and a Taste for Tippex



Sunday Independent

Date 2005-01-09


Chiara Carter

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Claims that defence heavyweights intimidated Armscor staff to influence the awarding of a contract, and the use of correcting fluid to alter figures on bid-related documents, are among startling revelations that have come to light around the country's controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.

The new information is drawn from draft documentation obtained by Cape Town businessman Richard Young after a marathon legal battle with the auditor-general, Shauket Fakie.

Young forced Fakie to hand over draft versions of his office's probe into claims of irregularities in the arms deal.

Other revelations that have emerged from the drafts include two conflicting sets of minutes purporting to record the same cabinet committee meeting; and interference in the process by senior defence officials as well as a cabinet minister.

Young has not finished his quest to get confidential documentation made public - not least because he is contesting the decision to pass over a bid by his company for one of the sub-contracts.

Young now wants Fakie to hand over another 100 pages of draft reportage that apparently remain outstanding.

He said yesterday that he was going to go after them. He also wants transcripts of witness statements, including interviews in which Armscor personnel apparently alleged they were intimidated by two very senior government officials.

The draft documents given to Young last month detail these allegations, which relate to the awarding of a contract to supply engines for helicopters. The draft report states that the direct intervention of one official led to a re-evaluation of two bids, and the original decision was then overturned.

A paragraph follows saying that Armscor staff who were opposed to this deal alleged that two officials intimidated and threatened them, including saying that they would lose their jobs.

This is but one of a string of revelations omitted from the official report published in November 2001 - discrepancies that lend weight to claims that the final report was edited to avoid including findings that might threaten the arms contracts or cast ministers in a bad light.

The draft report also indicates that the former minister of defence now deceased, Joe Modise, personally influenced the cabinet decision to buy Hawk trainer aircraft rather than the jet favoured by the South African Air Force.

It provides information about two sets of minutes - one drawn up by a senior official - for a committee meeting that discussed whether to opt for the Hawk.

The other minutes suggested the committee would present the cabinet with two sets of options. In the event, the cabinet heard only the Hawk proposal.

Another section relating to the evaluation of submarines raises serious questions about procedures followed - including the use of correcting fluid in contravention of regulations on the documents recording evaluation of the different bids.

Key revelations in the draft report handed to Young indicate that the final official report left out:

- details about "fundamental flaws" in the selection of BAe and Saab as suppliers of jet trainer and fighter aircraft;

- a record of objections from senior defence force members to the purchase of more jet aircraft;

- a suggestion that the purchase of new Gripen aircraft be deferred; and

- the drafts also indicate that critical information relating to Young's failed bid was omitted from the final report.

The auditor-general has consistently denied that his report was altered at the behest of the executive, saying the government response was only required in relation to verifiable facts.

In 2003 Fakie strongly denied to parliament's standing committee on public accounts that there had been political interference. In a subsequent court affidavit he said there had been no substantive changes made between the drafts and the final version.

The emergence into the public domain of the draft reports has led to an outcry from political parties. The Democratic Alliance this week pressed the government to set up a judicial commission of inquiry.

Patricia de Lille, the politician who first blew the whistle on alleged corruption in the arms deal, this weekend said she had told the country so. De Lille, who leads the Independent Democrats, said she knew from the start that the final report on the government's probe into the allegations of corruption had been sanitised and was "a cover-up".

She said those who were responsible for flouting procedure and those involved in corruption should be charged.

IFP MP Gavin Woods said he intended raising the matter in the standing committee on public accounts, the oversight committee he headed at the time the allegations about the arms deal were raised in Parliament.

He said there were clear signs of substantive changes to the report and the auditor-general would have to account to parliament once again.

With acknowledgements to Chiara Carter and the Sunday Independent.