SA arms exports to Poland on hold, not denied – NCACC

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South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) has not blocked arms exports to Poland, but placed them on hold – however, it is unclear for how long.

Advocate Ezra Jele, briefing the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) on 7 September on NCACC first and second quarter reports for 2023, was asked why export permits to certain countries, including Poland, appeared to be blocked. He told committee members that permits were not refused, but were merely on hold. He did not elaborate on when there might be a decision on whether to approve or deny them.

In 2022, Jele revealed three export permits for Saudi Arabia (R505 million); three permits for the United Arab Emirates (R1.45 billion); three permits for Turkey (R20 million); and one permit for Poland (R893 million) were on hold. Some permits had been granted to these countries, including nine export permits worth R37 million to Saudi Arabia, along with 59 permits worth R2.9 billion to the United Arab Emirates, and 18 permits worth R2 billion to Turkey. No export permits to Poland had been approved.

In the JSCD meeting last week, Jele did not give a clear indication why the permits were on hold, as there are no United Nations Security Council embargos on Turkey or Poland, but he did mention that diversion was a concern – presumably that weapons to Poland would be sent to Ukraine.

Jele explained that the NCACC can decided to approve, deny or hold a permit application based on information from a Scrutiny Committee chaired by Acting Secretary for Defence Dr Thobekile Gamede. This committee is informed by the Department of Defence, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, SA Police Service, State Security Agency, and Defence Intelligence. When deciding to approve or deny permits, the committee takes into account United Nations Security Council arms embargos, human rights violations, regional dynamics that could contribute to destabilisation, the risk of diversion, and South Africa’s national interests.

In April, Democratic Alliance shadow defence minister Kobus Marais asked Defence Minister Thandi Modise in a written question why exports to Poland were on hold. Modise directed the question to the NCACC but exports to Poland have to meet NCACC criteria to be approved, and if approved, there may be a need for on-site inspection or an end user certificate (EUC).

Export permit approvals to Poland have been on hold for well over a year, leading to fears of stalling tactics by the NCACC. African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier believes it is against the spirit of the law to hold permits for so long and not deny or approve them, unless the applicant is provided with a clear and reasonable set of requirements to be met. “If there’s no likelihood of a permit being approved within a few months it’s better for everyone that it be denied,” he told defenceWeb.