There has been yet another attempt by the official opposition party in Parliament, the Democratic Alliance (DA), to blemish the image of our government and the country before the eyes of the world. Comments made by the DA, motivated by ignorance or malice, or both, if left unchallenged could lead unsuspecting consumers of information to arrive at unfortunate conclusions. The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) is a responsible committee of government and one which carries out its mandate with the highest levels of diligence.
The NCACC was established in terms of the law (National Conventional Arms Control ACT 41 OF 2002 – hereinafter referred to as the Act) and its mandate is to ensure compliance with policy of our government in respect of arms control amongst other things. In furtherance of the mandate of our government, the NCACC will continue to conduct itself within the framework of the law and the constitution.
The DA has again tried to resuscitate matters which the NCACC has long provided clarity on and is doing so in a desperate attempt to become politically relevant and significant. The wave of political instability that has hit a number of North African and Middle East countries is seen by the DA as an opportunity to gain political mileage at the expense of our government. In its statement, the DA makes reference to a number of factors that we will deal with in order to set the record straight.
In 2010 the NCACC duly authorized arms trade between South African companies operating in defence-related industry and the Republic of Libya. A number of other transactions were also considered at that time. In authorizing those transactions, the NCACC applied the guiding principles and criteria set out in terms of section 15 of the Act.
All decisions taken by the NCACC are preceded by investigations that are undertaken by the subcommittees established in terms of the Act. These subcommittees have a legal duty to report to and advise the NCACC on matters that relate to its business, including the arms trade. In this way we can confidently indicate that in all transactions that were undertaken and concluded with Libya, we had satisfied ourselves, through a meticulous process, that there was compliance with the guiding principles and the criteria laid down in our law. As we have said in the past, in making decisions the NCACC considers in aggregate, all principles reflected in our legislation. No single principle is considered in isolation of the others.
At the time when the transaction was concluded with Libya, there was no evidence available to the effect that there would be any political unrest in that country; this extends to the region (North Africa and parts of the Middle East). Similarly, there was no evidence that if political instability were to occur, that it would turn out violent in Libya or in any of the countries with which arms trade had been concluded. Some in the media or through the use of media as a platform have been quick to conclude that the deaths that have been reported in Libya during the period of political unrest have a direct link with the arms sold by the South African companies to Libya. There is no evidence available to back up such a claim.
As a member of the International Community, we are enjoined by the Act to ensure adherence to international treaties and agreements. We have an obligation not to trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism. At the time when these transactions were concluded, there was no United Nations Security Council resolution on arms embargo against Libya or any of the other states with which we traded that are or recently have been affected by political instability. No such position had been adopted by the African Union either.
We are enjoined by section 23 of the Act to ensure compliance with the annual reporting requirements to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. In a like manner there is a duty to table at the same time, the NCACC’s annual report in Parliament in the first quarter of the new calendar year accounting for business conducted in the preceding year. We are in good standing and we comply with our reporting obligations, including by presenting quarterly reports to Cabinet after the end of each quarter.
Our law (section 23 of the Act) strikes the necessary balance between the need to be transparent and accountable, whilst at the same time it recognizes and caters for confidentiality which invariably attaches to all transactions that are concluded from time to time. It is for this reason, the need to observe the confidentiality clause in these contracts, that we are not in a position to provide the details regarding the nature of and the quantities of arms sold when these contracts were concluded. It is entirely up to the parties involved in the transactions to decide on whether or not to waive confidentiality clause in respect of any contract concluded.
The NCACC has never refused to appear before any Committee of Parliament. An invitation had been extended to the Chairperson of the NCACC to appear before the Portfolio Committee on Defence on 12 May 2010. The said invitation was withdrawn minutes before it was honored. The NCACC is ready to and remains available to appear before any Committee of Parliament to account for its affairs.
We will make every possible contribution, as part of the International Community, to support peace efforts in areas where there is conflict. We will not, with the benefit of information obtained beforehand, authorize the sale of arms where there are grounds to believe that such arms may be used in conflict areas or by governments to commit atrocities against their own people.
We would like to assure everybody and the International Community that South African Government will continue to conduct arms transactions in a responsible manner and in doing so will observe obligations imposed on it by both domestic and international laws.
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DATE: 25 February 2011