SCOPA's Intended Arms Deal Investigation :
The Interventionist Causes of its Failure

 Gavin Woods
January 2002


After a relatively short but intense investigation into the “Arms Deal” in October 2000,  SCOPA produced it’s 14th  report in which it  recommended  a  range of related areas for further study and investigation.   Here it required that : 

The 14th report  intended that the combined findings of  these exercises be brought together in a final SCOPA report  which would offer Parliament and the public comprehensive answers to matters of concern which were in the public domain.  Based on these findings,  the report would have made recommendations covering any problems identified – both in dealing with these problems and in avoiding such problems in the future. 

Through the adoption of its “final report” on 11 December 2001, SCOPA has now formally ended its work on the arms deal (see note at end of paper), and in so doing has stopped considerably short of meeting its obligations  (see Gavin Woods’ paper on the JIT report),  . This failure is  directly attributable to : 

The purpose of this paper is to indicate  what caused these two areas of failure, which in turn  prevented SCOPA from producing a comprehensive final report concerning the country’s single largest instance of public spending and concerns related thereto. 

The explanation given in this paper will suggest that the failure in question is not due to inability or incompetence on the part of SCOPA or the JIT.   Rather that  it was most likely due to a sequence of interventions which hampered, discouraged and indeed blocked the intended investigations from achieving the more substantive “final report” SCOPA had promised.    These interventions are explained under the following headings: 

i. Interventions which led to the exclusion of the Heath Special Investigation Unit (HSIU)

The JIT’s capacity, experience and capability was seriously reduced by the absence of the HSIU.  As was demonstrated in an earlier paper (“The correct interpretation of SCOPA’s 14th report” – 14/02/01) it was SCOPA’s intention that the HSIU be part of the JIT.  At the time of writing the 14th report a study was undertaken which clearly indicated the necessity of  the HSIU’s involvement (amongst others). Similar opinion was later also expressed by:

·        the remaining three members of the JIT (AG, PP, DoPP) at a meeting held in Pretoria on 13/11/00 (see notes of meeting).

·        the Auditor General in a letter to the Chairperson of SCOPA (dated 21/11/00)

·        members of the Auditor General’s team when relating the purposeful and clear thinking shown by the HSIU at the initial discussions held between the four agencies.

·        by advocates Jan Lubbe and Frank Kahn in their report to the President which said “it is imperative that all the agencies referred to in SCOPA’s 14th report should be involved”. 

Vital to the overall investigation was the intention expressed to Gavin Woods and Andrew Feinstein by a number of anonymous government officials and by two  bidders for  prime contracts and by a  sub-contractor, that they wished to testify/ volunteer information to the HSIU.  Certain of these parties wished to engage in civil proceedings through the  Special Tribunal facility, which was a facility exclusive to the HSIU.  The completed JIT investigation is most certainly poorer for having been denied this additional information/evidence, as it was poorer without the additional legal powers and experience unique to the HSIU. 

The reason for the HSIU’s omission from the JIT resulted from the President’s refusal to grant the unit a proclamation to proceed.  The President’s decision was ostensibly informed by the following interventions: 

ii. Interventions by members of the Executive which affected  SCOPA’s work

iii. Interventions which affected SCOPA’s relationship with the JIT      

As is very apparent from Gavin Woods’ critique of the JIT report (see paper), the absence of any communication between SCOPA and the JIT has allowed  the JIT report to fall far short and for off course of the work SCOPA had hoped the it would otherwise have produced. 

 iv. Interventions by Senior ANC office bearers which affected SCOPA’s work

v. Other interventions which discouraged SCOPA continuing its arms deal work

In compliance with instructions given by the party,  and mindful of the earlier anger expressed by at least six powerful members of the Executive (Zuma, Erwin, Essop Pahad, Manuel, Maduna, Lekota), the ANC component  increasingly took it upon itself to prevent SCOPA taking any initiative on the arms deal matter.  As  examples of this :

vi. Interventions which have been used with respect to the JIT report to end SCOPA’s arms deal work

A number of interventions took place once the JIT final report was tabled in Parliament on 14/11/01.  All of these strongly suggested a determination on the part of senior ANC leaders to use the occasion in a way which would discourage any further parliamentary oversight over the arms deal and related matters.


The many interventions, when brought together in a single paper, reveal just how consistent these all with a single purpose – i.e. to discourage the investigation into the arms deal achieving the scope and depth recommended in SCOPA’s 14th report.  These interventions have therefore achieved that purpose. (See Gavin Woods critique of the JIT investigation). 

As close observers of SCOPA’s difficult 2001 year are be aware, it was these interventions and the conflict they caused which in the main led to the discordant relations and dysfunction within the Committee. This in turn led to the Committee performing significantly worse than any other year since 1994. 

On the one hand a very small minority (one or two individuals) contested these interventions as being contrary to SCOPA’s oversight responsibilities - while on the other hand the overwhelming majority in the Committee used their numbers to ensure that Party political short-term interests came first. The future ability of the committee to conduct its work in a fair and balanced manner is now under question.


* The ending of SCOPA’s arm deal work

In the Business Day of Tuesday 11 December 2001, Mr. Vincent Smith of the ANC stated  that the ANC was totally opposed to any further inquiries by SCOPA into the arms deal and that the ANC is very determined to conclude this matter by Wednesday (12 December 2001).  He said anything else must be dealt with outside of the committee.   The ANC position stated by Mr. Smith was of course consistent with that of senior party leaders who had demanded that the “arms deal controversy now be put behind us”.  

On the very  same day the ANC presented  a draft  report to the Committee for adoption. (Note: there was no obligation on SCOPA to produce a report at that stage)  The draft report in every sense indicated finality of SCOPA’s arms deal work - which of course was in keeping with the above stated ANC position. The DA, IFP and UDM opposed the report on the basis of its content and its intention to prevent SCOPA from dealing with very important outstanding arms deal matters.  

To try and avoid the possibility of bad publicity were they seen to be steamrolling through a final report which would force closure on the arms deal, the ANC refused to admit or deny that the report was intended as SCOPA’s “final” report.   As the transcripts of the meeting show, the question was put to them on six occasions.    A study of these transcripts shows that notwithstanding the obfuscatory tactics employed they inadvertently confirm it to be the “final “ report.  They even go as far as suggesting that there was no need for further work by SCOPA as   certain other portfolio committees could be monitoring one or two on-going arms deal issues (see other committee reports) and  as the Director of Public Prosecutions would be continuing with related criminal investigations.   The gross inaccuracy of this suggestion is exposed by Gavin Woods’  paper which critiques the JIT’s work.  

The report was duly voted through by the ANC majority and is now  SCOPA’s  “final” report – suggesting (falsely) that SCOPA’s has fulfilled its responsibility to Parliament and the South African public.   

The importance of the point being made here is that after  blocking SCOPA from undertaking its obligatory investigative work (see 14th report) during 2001, it had now succeeded in preventing it altogether.