A question of knowledge

It is a great pity that Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) has decided to leave a new investigation into the allegations that swirl around the 1999 Strategic Defence Package (SDP) for the next Parliament.
While it is true that time is running low for the Third Parliament and that MPs are distracted by the need to go canvas for votes for the 22 April election, it is also so that perpetuates the public perception that the SDP was per se corrupt and that the R47 billion paid for 50 fighter aircraft, 30 helicopters, four frigates and three submarines was money badly spent.
This is, of course, untrue. But just because it is not true does not mean it translates that way into the mind of Joe Public. After all, “arms deal” critics have had ten years to entrench their view of events in the popular memory – and they`ve had the help of a coterie of ministers and other government officials who have opened their mouths only to change feet.
Documentary evidence available to Scopa also indicate at face value that former President Thabo Mbeki and some Cabinet ministers drastically cut a 900-page joint report compiled in 2001 following an investigation into the allegations. They then in a number of instances seemingly altered the wording that remained. When this was discovered they denied it.            
Is it surprising then that the SDP is commonly held in high odour?
At the same time, though, the watchdogs must know what they are barking at. While it is difficult to follow events at a distance, it does appear some MPs – and critics are yapping at cats rather than burglars.
An observer who attended the latest round of hearings noted that even after 10 years, some members of the house appeared “shockingly” ignorant on some details related to the SDP and government`s national and defence Industrial Participation (IP, offset) policy.
The observer says a number of named MPs “displayed a complete lack of knowledge about how the NIP and DIP programmes are administered and what they are meant to achieve”. The industry source adds they were “also unaware, for example that an annual review of NIP is presented to Parliament every year (the most recent just this month!).”
This is clearly not acceptable either. It is incumbent on those chasing allegations of wrongdoing to ensure they have command of the facts. In this regard, one hopes they will do some homework while at the hustings and return to any future hearings better prepared. The postponement, for them, may be a blessing in disguise.