Publication: Cape Argus Issued: Date: 2008-08-08 Reporter:

Erwin and Pahad on the Arms Deal

 

Publication 

Cape Argus

Date

2008-08-08

Web Link

www.capeargus.co.za

 

Erwin: There is extensive and very voluminous documentation from our own constitutional structures, from our own investigative structures, that actually allows you to quite easily check the veracity and accuracy of most of the allegations.

I'm going to deal just with a few. First, why there should be a judicial inquiry, and should there be an amnesty. As government we can see no basis for the appointment of a judicial inquiry. There has already been an extensive investigation, and for any further investigation there must be sound grounds, not rehashed allegations with little basis in fact.

In any event, where there have been grounds for action to be taken, those matters have been either dealt with by the court or are in front of the courts, and to date we have no further substantive information. Despite newspapers claiming they've got information, no one has said to a prosecuting authority or to the police, here's the information, act on it. The defence against that is (the allegation that) everything is being suppressed. No one's been able to show this.

The same with the argument for an amnesty: there may well be people who think this would be in their interests, but an amnesty requires that if someone's done something, we must have reasonable evidence that this has happened. Not just vague allegations and unsubstantiated allegations. The other issue is an assertion that it must be inherently the case, because we're dealing with arms, that there would be kickbacks. Now I take you back to the investigation done by the Auditor General, Public Protector and the National Director of Public Prosecutions, and their finding was that no evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by the government.

The irregularities and improprieties point to the conduct of certain officials of government departments, and cannot be ascribed to the president or ministers involved in their capacity as members of the ministers' committee or cabinet. There are therefore no grounds to suggest that the government's contracting position is flawed. That's the finding.

The argument that the inquiry was tampered with we'd like you to look up an extensive presentation made by the Auditor General. He contended quite clearly that he was entirely satisfied that the process that had been followed, where the executive was allowed to comment on the findings of an Auditor General in terms of the law, in no way altered his findings or conclusions. It's there, it's documented, it's in writing, and it's in the parliamentary record.

Other contentions that Judge Heath was kept out of this and that he is the person who would have found everything ... go back to the Constitutional Court ruling which made it clear that in law he could not be part of that investigation. So unless you disagree with the Constitutional Court we would recommend you ... have a careful look at (that finding).

The German prosecutors are not prosecuting anybody. They've stopped the investigation. They believe there's no basis whatsoever for the investigation. One would think that this is still being carried out - it's not. (It would be) instructive for you to look at the text of the German prosecutors and why they abandoned it.

Issues have been raised about meetings with French companies. These matters are being dealt with through the parliamentary question process ... as soon as Parliament has those responses the president will release them publicly. Some of these accusations are very, very spurious and highly prejudicial to (the) government, to the president and to the ministers.

We will not deal at this point with the Sunday Times matter because ... the President is taking legal advice.

Journalist: There was a bit of confusion around the allegations about the minister preventing that investigation from the German side into the letters, and that the minister apparently didn't respond in time to queries from German investigators. Could you just go a bit on that?

Simelane: At no stage was there ever a delay in response to the Germans. The German prosecutors requested mutual legal assistance from the South African authorities, and one of the things we had to ... consider was whether or not we were in a position to provide that assistance.

We wrote to the German investigators asking for clarity and further particulars. They did not address themselves to (our) request for further particulars. Until today they have not come back to us. Recently I wrote again reminding them that they have not come back as promised.

They indicated that they are unlikely to come back because, for reasons they couldn't disclose, (they) are not going to be pursuing the matter; they were not focusing on the South African investigation any more. It wasn't necessary. So I just want to assure you that there's been the fullest engagement with the German authorities.

Journalist: Just a very simple question to either Minister Pahad or Minister Erwin. Can you guarantee that not one cent went from any of the arms deal ... into ANC coffers?

Erwin: Well, you're asking essentially an impossible question. We would not be able to give such a guarantee. We're not responsible for those companies. What we have said time and time again is that there was no process between government and these companies that in any way asked them to make any payments to anything or anyone in this country. That was part of the investigation and that we can stand by absolutely. What the companies did in their own right, if they did anything, we cannot be held accountable for. If you've got evidence on that you must make it available. But we can be certain that from (the) government's side ... no such arrangements were reached in any way.

Pahad: The Presidency issued a statement in which it made very clear that at no stage had the president benefited in any way from the arms deal.

Journalist: Minister Erwin, you mentioned that the president is investigating or taking legal advice about bringing litigation against The Sunday Times. Would that be for defamation? And second, are there discussions or suspicions within the Presidency that these renewed allegations could have a political purpose?

Pahad: The Sunday Times claims to have a report by a risk agency in which these scurrilous allegations are made against the president. Obviously in the Presidency we have decided to take legal advice with respect to those allegations, and once we have received the legal advice we will act on that and see what we can do about it. The Presidency issued a statement over the weekend in which it categorically rejected the allegations. But today we want to deal with the arms deal. But I repeat, the Presidency once more categorically rejects all of those allegations.

Erwin: I don't think that the Presidency or government is going to be drawn into speculation as to motives. But our concern is that very basic homework is not being done by the media, that it's quite possible to check most of these things against documentation that exists in large quantities. So what we're certain about is that our standards of journalism in this regard are exceptionally low.

Journalist: Could you remind us of the definitive cost of the arms deal. Mr Zuma said that if his case comes to court he will call witnesses, and "the truth will be revealed". Now he didn't name names but the implication is very strong that one of the witnesses would be President Mbeki himself. Do you have any views on this and whether government ministers or even the president would be prepared to testify. Finally, has there been any consideration of an amnesty for Mr Zuma?

Pahad: I think we must wait for those legal processes to be completed so we're not going to comment on the legal processes. I don't think we have the full figures, but let Alec explain it, and then if it's necessary, we can get the figures.

Erwin: We don't have the figure offhand. We didn't bring it with us, and ... essentially what you have to watch is the expenditure reports in the budget process, because these figures can be influenced by exchange rate matters from time to time, but I can say that from a government expenditure point of view this is having no major adverse impact on our expenditure patterns in any way.

This is an edited version of questions and answers.

With acknowledgements to Cape Argus.