The South African government interfered in and flouted tender procedures in the 1998 arms deal, according to former defence secretary Lieutenant-General Pierre Steyn, who testified at the Seriti Commission yesterday.
“I will present evidence to show how the executive acted in improper haste to enter into acquisition contracts and in the process, flouted existing legal and departmental prescripts in this regard, as well as ignoring sound and rational advice,” Steyn said.
He told the commission that former defence minister Joe Modise introduced new tender processes and neglected previous ones, creating a “concerning mix” of policies, City Press reports. Modise changed the processes so that he had final say in all military purchases.
“What concerned me is that in 1998 there was no money on the 1998 or 1999 budget on this [Strategic Defence Procurement Package]…I was not told about where the money would come from,” he said. “Part of the Exchequer Act, which was in place, was that you were not allowed to embark on an expenditure if you haven’t reflected the need anywhere. This caused great concerns as far as I was concerned.”
Steyn said he was told off by then-deputy defence minister Ronnie Kasrils about meddling in the arms deal. Steyn said Modise and Kasrils were determined to get the deals signed as soon as possible without properly evaluating the weapons packages, Beeld reports. He told the commission that the procurement was heavily influenced by political, economic and other considerations that were not related to the military’s operational needs.
“An unjustifiable decision was made to purchase British aircraft at considerable extra cost, which was unnecessary. The question is why this was done. One of the ways of finding the answer is to ask who benefited from these irregular and unjustified decisions,” Steyn said. “That is the key question I hope the commission will investigate and answer.”
The former defence secretary said the government allocated money for new equipment but no provision was made for operational costs.
Steyn left the defence force in 1998 after 34 years of service because of the irregularities he had allegedly witnessed during the procurement process. He served as defence secretary, and thus accounting officer, between August 1994 and November 1998.
The Seriti Commission was established by Presidential decree to investigate allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity around the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP). It was originally given a year to complete its work but this was extended for a further 12 months.