Zuma announces “arms deal” probe

1924

President Jacob Zuma is to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the still-controversial 1999 Strategic Defence Procurement (SDP) packages, generally known as the “arms deal”.

His office, this afternoon, in a statement, said Zuma will soon announce the terms of reference and the composition of the commission including the time frames. “The President has requested the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to take the necessary steps to implement this decision,” the statement added.
“In 2009, legal proceedings were instituted in the Western Cape High Court asking the Court to direct the President to appoint an independent judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing or to require him to reconsider his refusal to do so. It later transpired that the Western Cape High Court was the wrong forum to hear the matter. An application was then brought in the Constitutional Court. The matter is set down for hearing on November 17, 2011.
“President Zuma assumed office when the matter was already pending in the courts of law. He had previously taken a view that since the matter was the subject of litigation in a court of law, he should allow the legal process to take its course. However, he has since taken into account the various developments around this matter and also the fact that closure on this subject will be in the public interest.”

The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it welcomes the announcement. “The DA has consistently called for this exact course of action for nearly ten years,” the official opposition says in a statement.
“The timing of the announcement is interesting. New information concerning alleged corruption in the arms deal is now emerging in Sweden and Germany. The Constitutional Court is set to rule on this matter in early November, and this raises the question of whether the President is pre-empting a possible court finding requiring him to appoint a commission of enquiry.
“The efficacy and legitimacy of the Commission will depend on its terms of reference and composition. The President must give the commission a full scope to investigate any and all aspects of the arms deal and have the powers to subpoena witnesses and documentation. He must appoint commissioners whose integrity and independence is beyond question, and who will conduct the enquiry with particular attention to detail.
“This is the President’s opportunity to lead. After all these years, the South African public deserve to finally know the whole truth behind the arms deal. The cancer of corruption is destroying the body politic of South Africa with the arms deal at its core. Now is the time to excise it.

South Africa in 1998 announced that it was to acquire frigates, submarines, helicopters and fighters from a number of European suppliers to rejuvenate the prime mission equipment of the South African Navy and Air Force. Preferred bidders were announced at the Defence Exhibition SA in September that ear. Negotiations followed with deals signed in 1999. The contracts, worth some R30 billion at the time, became effective on April 1, 2000.

The deals would see South Africa gain four sophisticated German-built Meko A200SAN frigates, three state-of-the-art Type 209 MOD1400 submarines (also German-built), 26 Swedish generation 4.5 SAAB Gripen fighter aircraft, 24 British-built BAE Systems Mk120 fighter trainers and 30 Italian-built AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters. All of these, except for the last few Gripen have now been delivered and paid for.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in June this year said the cost of the SDP had grown to R 42 362 053 814. In addition to this amount, she added interest on an Arms Procurement Loan Facility (APLF) “so far amounted to R 7 860 569 013”, adding to R50 222 622 827.

The total ceiling approved by the National Treasury for the SDP – excluding the APLF is R47 225 627 631, Sisulu said. In August 2008 her predecessor, Mosiuoa Lekota, said the contract price was R30.049 billion (in 1998 Rand) and was expected to climb to R43.828 billion, based on projected fluctuations in rate of exchange at the time.

The SDP has been controversial from the start. Opponents have always insisted South Africa had other, more important, spending priorities. Government claims that industrial participation (offsets) related to the acquisitions would generate investment of worth about R104 billion and create some 65 000 jobs was met with derision, with noted economist Mike Schussler calling it “voodoo figures.”

Then followed allegations of wrongdoing and corruption. Probes by the National Prosecuting Authority, Auditor General and Public Protector followed, culminating in the even-more-contentious Joint Investigation Team report of 2001 that found – in summary – there had been minor irregularities but no corruption. This was disbelieved by a sceptical public.