SA 2008 defence exports totals R5.8bn

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South Africa exported arms worth R5.8bn ($736.5 million) to countries including Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia in the last calendar year, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told Parliament this morning, the Bloomberg news service reports.  

Radebe heads the National Conventional Arms Control Committee and is this morning accounting to the National Assembly`s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCODMV).  

The meeting was initially to be closed to the public but PCODMV chairman Mnyamezeli Booi yesterday reversed that decision.

Appearing with Radebe were fellow NCACC members Siyabonga Cwele, the state security minister and Nathi Mthetwa, the police minister. Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu was absent, probably because she was scheduled to have a meeting with the SA Council of Churches at the same time regarding last week`s soldier`s riot in Pretoria.        

Radebe was scheduled to present the NCACC`s 2008 annual report – that should have been tabled by law by March 31 – and answer questions about alleged irregularities in approving some recent exports as well as inefficiencies at the NCACC.    

The report was tabled but questions about it and the alleged irregularities as well as inefficiencies ran into stony ground Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said afterwards.

“The minister refused to respond to any of the questions about the dodgy arms deals on the grounds that he was not prepared,” Maynier said in a statement. “This excuse is simply not credible. These revelations have now been in the press for over a month.”

Maynier says the public has “a right to know how it was that we sold, attempted to sell or demonstrated and exhibited conventional arms in states such as Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea and Zimbabwe, despite legislation aimed at ensuring that we do not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression and terrorism.

“The minister appears to be trying to hide this information from the public. It is impossible to oversee and scrutinize the NCACC if members of the portfolio committee are simply stonewalled by the minister,” he says.

The SA Press Association reports Radebe would not discuss details of arms deals involving nations like Syria, prompting accusations that he was stonewalling questions on weapons trade with “rogue states”.

Maynier and his deputy, James Lorimer, add that the meeting was brought to an end with some haste and before many questions could be posed or answered.  

The 2008 report is the first in four years to make it into the public domain despite very clear language in the National Conventional Arms Control Act 41 of 2002 that the report must be made public. The 2005, 2006 and 2007 reports were tabled to the PCOD, albeit late, but were classified and not released for general circulation. It is not clear if and when they will be made public.     

In discussing the 2008 report, Radebe gave no breakdown of the categories of weapons exported. SAPA also reports he flatly refused calls from the DA to discuss the alleged sale of sniper rifles to Syria and ammunition to Zimbabwe. “It would not be appropriate to go into every transaction we have authorised and not authorised,” he said.

The minister said he would confine himself to a press statement made on August 6, after the DA claimed it had information that South Africa had recently concluded “ten dodgy arms deals”.

“That response is as valid today as it was on August 6,” he said. Maynier had alleged that South Africa sold Libya glide bombs and provided multiple grenade launchers to Libya, Syria and Venezuela.

Maynier said the NCACC was mulling the sale of thousands of aviator G-suits to Iran, and approving of efforts to sell thousands of sniper rifles to Syria as well as “millions” of rounds of ammunition to Zimbabwe. He also accused the body of authorising the demonstration of radar warning receivers for submarines in North Korea.

Radebe on August 6 denied any deals with Iran and North Korea, defended the right to trade with Venezuela and said there were no United Nations Security Council resolutions banning arms trade with Libya and Zimbabwe. He confirmed that the NCACC had approved the sale of armed personnel carriers to Libya.

Maynier reacted at the minister’s refusal to go further, saying: “There are not reasonable and justifiable grounds not to disclose the information”.

Radebe shot back: “It is totally inappropriate for you to insinuate that I have not provided information to Parliament.” He added that though he had the information he could not go beyond the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting, which had been called to deal with the annual report and inform members how the NCACC functioned.

The minister was backed up by Booi, who told SAPA Maynier failed to inform him that he wanted an opportunity to ask the minister for details of deals. Maynier countered that he had made his aims clear in three meetings with Booi yesterday.

Maynier has refused to bow to pressure from ANC MPs on the committee to reveal his sources, prompting calls earlier this month that he be kicked off the PCODMV for compromising national security.

Shortly after the meeting ended ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga issued a statement saying he would ask Speaker Max Sisulu to remove Maynier from the committee for illegally obtaining and disclosing classified information.

The statement said Section 23(3) of the NCAC Act stated that “no person may disclose any classified document or the content thereof concerning the business of the Committee (NCACC) except with the permission of a competent authority or as required in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000”.

Motshekga`s office said Parliament’s legal opinion agreed with “our interpretation of the Act, that not only was Maynier in possession of illegally obtained classified information, but he also had no authorisation to disclose such information to the public.”

The statement says the information was deemed “classified”, as it “related to the arms transfer applications that have been lodged and are still being considered by the NCACC. Such information should not be made public as it may prejudice the decision making process of the NCACC.” Anyone found guilty of this offence by a court of law can face an imprisonment of up to 20 years, a fine or both.

“The legal opinion also noted that while MPs are protected against civil or criminal proceedings, arrest or imprisonment for anything revealed in the National Assembly or any of its Committees, this is not applicable in Maynier’s case as he disclosed the information during a media briefing. This renders him liable to criminal prosecution.

“While we accept that he has not bridged any parliamentary rule, we however believe that he has acted in a manner unbecoming of an MP serving in the security cluster. Maynier’s failure to take into consideration the potential danger his action posed to the national security makes him a liability rather than an asset to the Portfolio Committee.

“In this regard, the Office of the Chief Whip will recommend to the Speaker of the National Assembly that Maynier be removed from the PCODMV with immediate effect.”

Maynier could not be reached for his reaction but Lorimer scoffed at the statement, saying Maynier had not been charged with any wrongdoing by any authority and that the NCACC itself was the biggest offender under Section 23, which mandated it to publish its annual report for the last calendar year no later than March 31 the next. The section also required the NCACC to provide quarterly reports to Parliament, something it has only done once since 2002. 

DA chief whip Ian