Zuma appoints “arms deal” inquiry


President Jacob Zuma has appointed Mr Justice Willie Seriti of the Supreme Court of Appeal to probe the 1999 Strategic Defence Package (SDP).

“On the 15th of September I announced that I would, in terms of section 84 (2) (f) of the Constitution, appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages, generally known as the ‘arms deal’,” Zuma said at a news conference called at short notice this afternoon.
“I have appointed the Commission.” The members are as follows:
1. Honourable Mr Justice Willie Seriti, Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal.
2. Honourable Mr Justice Willem van der Merwe, Deputy Judge President of the North Gauteng High Court.
3. Honourable Mr Justice Francis Legodi, Judge of the North Gauteng High Court.

Seriti will chair the commission, “which is expected to complete its work within two years. We wish Mr Justice Seriti and his team well in the execution of this important task.”

The Mail & Guardian reported in September President Jacob Zuma told the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) afterwards that he had decided to appoint a commission of inquiry into the controversial multibillion-rand arms acquisition 12 years ago to prevent the Constitutional Court from taking charge of the matter and prescribing the terms of reference for him.

The M&G said the Constitutional Court was expected to rule on November 17 on activist Terry Crawford Browne’s application to force Zuma to reopen the investigation into the SDP. Three NEC members who spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity, told the M&G Zuma had told the NEC he was aware that the majority of the court’s judges would rule in favour of Crawford Browne. According to the NEC members, Zuma said he took the decision to appoint the commission of inquiry because he didn’t want a situation where the courts would be seen to be running the affairs of the government on his behalf.

Some in the NEC believe Zuma called for a commission of inquiry to save the ANC, not necessarily to get to the bottom of the alleged corruption that marred the multibillion-rand transaction. Calling for a commission of inquiry was an attempt to stay ahead of the court, said an NEC member, who pointed out that if the matter was left to the court the type of commission and its terms of reference would be stricter and more binding on many party leaders and the party itself. “If the Constitutional Court was to make the decision to have a commission of inquiry it would have been messy and would possibly have changed the political landscape of the country.”

Crawford-Browne has said he will consider withdrawing his Constitutional Court case against President Jacob Zuma only if “credible” people are appointed to head the process. Crawford-Browne has said he wants the deals cancelled, the money paid refunded and the equipment returned.

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 year. Negotiations followed with deals signed in December 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 R7 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.

In June this year, Swedish defence multinational SAAB announced BAE Systems had paid Hlongwane R24 million to help secure the Gripen contract. The Swedish company adds that news of the payment was hidden from it by its partner in the deal. Dow Jones Newswires reminded that the British defence giant last year reached an agreement with the SFO over allegations that it failed to provide accurate records in connection with the supply of an air-traffic control system to Tanzania. It admitted the charge and agreed to pay a penalty of £30 million, while the SFO waived its right to investigate other allegations. BAE Systems in June sold the last of its shares in the Swedish defence company.

In August the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Ferrostaal, part of the German Submarine Consortium, had made R300 million in “questionable” payments to secure its SA contract. Themba Godi, the chairman of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) said the development was startling, given the fact that the Hawks had closed the German arm of the investigation, citing a lack of evidence. “These revelations do indicate that unless this matter is thoroughly investigated, we will continue to have information coming to the public that shows us that maybe our anti-corruption agencies have not been doing their work.”