Publication: Noseweek Date: 2006-03-01 Reporter: Martin Welz Reporter: Reporter:

The Terrible Terror



Issue 77




Editorial, Martin Welz

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Early in 2002, Richard Young’s CCII Systems, designers and manufacturers of defence software, applied to the Auditor General Shauket Fakie for access to his working papers and drafts for the controversial report on the government’s defence procurement programme that he tabled in parliament in November 2001.

This followed allegations that the process of the procurement of the arms had been irregular and corrupt – and that the irregularities and corruption had led to CCII losing its bid for a part of the naval component.

Six months later, when CCII had still had no proper response to its request for information, the company applied to the Pretoria High Court for an order compelling AG Shauket Fakie to comply with the request. The first judgment ordering the AG to hand over the documents within 40 days was delivered on 15 November 2002. It had little or no effect.

By 12 June 2003, Fakie had produced only 751 pages (along with a covering letter informing CCII that that was all they were going to get). So the company launched another court application, this time to have the Auditor General declared in contempt of court – a criminal offence.

Suddenly, the floodgates opened. Some 10,000 pages of documents had been provided to CCII by Fakie’s office by the time the contempt application was heard in October 2004. Not surprisingly, the court found that the only reason the AG produced the bulk of the documents was the threat of a criminal conviction for contempt.

The court found Fakie guilty of contempt of court and, on October 24, 2004 gave him a suspended sentence of one month’s imprisonment.

Fakie appealed against the judgment and order. Shortly after leave to appeal was granted on the contempt matter, he made available the last outstanding draft reports to CCII – “without admission of liability”.

The appeal was argued in Bloemfontein last month and the court’s judgment is still awaited.

Pretoria High Court Judge Brian Southwood last April ordered Defence Minister Terror Lekota to furnish defence electronics manufacturer Young with all the arms deal documents he had requested, saying Lekota had not given adequate reasons for refusing Young access. Young had already formally requested the documents more than two years earlier, in terms of the Access to Information Act.

You will be aware that in recent years Mr Lekota has made it known that he now prefers to be known by his given name, Mosiuoa, rather than his old MK nickname. And who could gainsay such a charming man? Even we went along with it – until we realised we’d been had by the smile and the disarming voice.

We have reinstated his old nickname, because terrifying he remains – now in his outrageous defiance of the law as a party cover-up man.

Lekota brazenly ignored the Pretoria court order, for months on end. When Young finally took him back to court, this time seeking to have the honourable minister up for contempt of court, Lekota announced that, actually, he wished to take the court’s order on appeal. Why he should have thought of this only many months out of time becomes clearer and clearer by the minute: He has no genuine defence and is simply abusing his position of power to cover up documents that will almost certainly prove government dishonesty – and incompetence – of the most serious kind. Behind the legal babble he is showing the finger to the courts, and no doubt earning brownie points with the presidency.

Last month, Judge Southwood quite properly turned down Terror Lekota’s application for leave to appeal. The minister was ordered to pay the legal costs, which means that we, the taxpayers and the poor of the country – not the dishonest party officials hiding behind the cover-up – will pay still more wasted legal fees.

One of the objects of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 is to facilitate access to information “as swiftly, inexpensively and effortlessly as reasonably possible” (s9[d]). More than four years have passed since Young first officially applied for the documents. His legal costs total hundreds of thousands of rands – in addition to the still bigger sums paid by taxpayers on behalf of Fakie and Lekota. And now our defence minister plans to drag it out by petitioning the chief justice.

Presumably he thinks we, the voters, will eventually get bored with the Arms Deal and move on. He’s wrong. We are riveted. There has to be extraordinary wrong-doing at a very high level if he’s prepared to go to such great lengths.

It’s really just a question of who gets to tell the whole shocking story first: Lekota – or us. The government’s handling of the arms deal has not only cost our country billions and our government its credibility; it has tainted every one of our democratic institutions.

- The Editor

With acknowledgement to Martin Welz and Noseweek.