Preparation underway for arms deal commission

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Government has again sought to assure South Africans that it is intent on ensuring that the Commission of Inquiry into the Strategic Defence Procurement Package, also known as the arms deal, delivers on its mandate in a transparent manner.

The state BuaNews agency reports the Department of Justice saying yesterday that “while it understood the urgency that was attached to this process, it was also important to ensure that proper infrastructure and the support systems were in place, given the projected lifespan of the commission,” as well as the magnitude of the task that the commission would undertake.
“The need to pay meticulous attention to necessary details cannot be emphasised enough. Preparations for this inquiry require us to enquire into infrastructure aspects in a manner significantly different to how we have dealt with other Commissions of Inquiry.”

The commission, led by Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Willie Seriti, was set up by President Jacob Zuma in October last year to look into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package, Bua says.

The commission is to investigate six areas, including whether any person or persons within and/or outside the government may have improperly influenced the awarding or conclusion of any of the contracts in the arms deal procurement process.

The department said that work for the commission was already being done. The procurement of accommodation, furniture and office equipment as well as the appointment of staff to support the commission was well underway.
“Already, temporary accommodation has been secured, while the process for procuring permanent office accommodation is being concluded.”

Regarding the supporting staff for the commission, the department said most have undergone the necessary processes, while those already appointed or seconded will take an oath of office this week and they are expected to assume duty on Monday.

According to the department, the commission will soon issue a comprehensive media statement which will, among other things, provide information on the modes and methods through which information can be transmitted to the Commission.
“The Commission will soon after it has completed its programme, announce a timetable for public hearings that will be conducted throughout the country at a later stage,” it said.

South Africa in 1998 announced that it was to acquire frigates, submarines, helicopters, jet trainers 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 Saab Gripen fighter aircraft, 24 British-built BAE Systems Hawk Mk 120 fighte-trainers and 30 Italian-built AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters. All of these, except for the last four Gripens, have now been delivered and paid for.

In June last year, Swedish defence multinational SAAB announced BAE Systems had paid Fana 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. The British defence giant last year reached an agreement with the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (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, including those relating to South Africa. BAE Systems in June sold the last of its shares in Saab.

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.”