Motlanthe could ask judge to probe 1999 SDP

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe says he may establish a judicial commission of inquiry into the still-controversial 1999 strategic defence package (SDP).
In an interview with SABC television news broadcast last night and this morning, an interviewer asked Motlanthe whether he would order a new probe into the acquisition of about 50 fighter aircraft, 30 helicopters, four frigates and three submarines.
Motlanthe answered that KwaZulu-Natal High Court judge Chris Nicholson had raised “the matter of a judicial commission” in his judgment when setting aside corruption and racketeering charges against African National Congress president Jacob Zuma, who was accused of taking a bribe from the local subsidiaries of Thales, one companies involved in the SDP.  
The President says he is awaiting the outcome of a number of legal and parliamentary processes before applying his mind on the matter. “There is no point setting up parallel processes,” he said. Asked whether he would consider a probe he said: “Yes, of course; yes.” 
The processes include Mbeki and the National Prosecuting Authority`s appeal of the Nicholson judgment and Parliament`s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) placing the SDP back on its agenda. 
Critics of the programme have for years alleged various irregularities with the programme as well as deficiencies with the equipment. SCOPA commissioned a multi-agency probe into the assumed improprieties that found no wrongdoing with the prime contracts.
The detractors then rounded on the investigation, saying they had evidence former President Thabo Mbeki and key ministers had interfered with the probe and had edited the final report.
The vendors have also consistently denied wrongdoing and have with the Air Force and Navy sought to rebut negative reports regarding the operational status of the equipment, regarded by many industry analysts as some of the best available on the market today.           
Despite this effort the allegations have stuck in the public mind and become conventional wisdom, with one of Mbeki`s biographers, Mark Gevisser, calling it the “poisoned well of SA politics.”    
Motlanthe also confirmed that Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille had raised the matter with him at their first official meeting at Mahlamba-Ndlopfu in Pretoria last week.
SDP critics have also hammered the cost of the programme, quoting figures as high as R60 billion, versus government`s initial figure of R29 billion over 11 years. They have also condemned the expenditure on defence, arguing the money should instead have gone to health, education or job creation.
But a look at government expenditure shows that the R28.2bn, inclusive of funds for the SDP, allocated to defence for 2008/9, amounts to slightly less than 5% of the state`s R533.9bn budget, versus R121.1bn for education, R105.3bn for welfare, R75.5bn for health and R52.6bn for housing.   
Treasury figures released earlier this year show the SDP`s cost as R47 401 billion, down from R47 483 billion last year. On page 390 of this year`s budget it tabulated the price of the various components of the programme as follows:
Frigates (Meko A200SAN)
Submarines (Type209 MOD1400)
Light utility helicopters (A109LUH)
Advanced Lightweight Fighter Aircraft (Saab JAS39C & D Gripen) 
Lead-in fighter trainers (BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk)
R47 401bn