A major “cash for access” scandal is brewing around a meeting of the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Military Command Council at a luxurious golf estate later this month, Business Day reports in its front page lead this morning. It says companies in the defence manufacturing industry “will each contribute a minimum of R20 000 in sponsorship towards a “work session” of the Military Command Council at the Zimbali Resort on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.
“The scheme to allow defence industry companies to get close to the nation’s military commanders is similar in style to the African National Congress’s controversial Progressive Business Forum where big business buys access to Cabinet ministers,” Business Day adds.
“It is, however, potentially worse in concept as it allows the manufacturers of defence equipment to buy access to public servants responsible for adjudicating the purchase of military hardware. The issue will raise concern about the independence of the adjudication of military tenders, particularly if any of the major sponsors are in line to supply SANDF contracts in the future.” The paper nots the Military Command Council consists of senior defence force officers who oversee air, navy, army and medical services and advise on the SANDF’s budget.
Early last month the executive director of the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD), Simphiwe Hamilton, wrote to members of his organisation inviting them to “sponsor the work session (of the council ) to promote the existing good working relationship between the SANDF and the defence industry”.
The choice of the Zimbali Resort and Golf Estate north of Durban was so that the council’s work session could be held in a secure environment, “conducive to both a productive output and a relaxed atmosphere”. [This despite the military owning numerous conference facilities on numberless secure defence facilities.]
Making matters worse, says the paper, is that the civilian oversight defence secretariat organised a work session of the defence secretariat council to coincide with that of the Military Command Council at the same venue. This led to a request to the defence industry for an additional R100 000. Defence secretary Mpumi Mpofu, in making the request this month, said the coincidence of the two working sessions at Zimbali was to “save time and ensure that there is a smooth working arrangement”.
Hamilton’s letter of invitation says that the South African Air Force is responsible for making arrangements. Each member of the council will get a bag, folder and stationery that will include branding of all sponsors including “relevant and classy corporate gifts”, the busines broadshet continues. “Every sponsor will be invited to send one representative to attend the sponsors’ evening on July 29. Sponsors will be flown in by the SANDF from Pretoria and will be accommodated at the same venue. During the evening of July 29 and during the dinner the chief of the SANDF will recognise the contributions of the sponsors and the evening will be spent together,” Hamilton’s letter says.
He encourages members to budget for the event as it is an annual event.
Independent defence consultant and correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, Helmoed Heitman, said last night he believed the practice of selling access at this level was wrong, Business Day continued. He said, however, that it was not new. The old apartheid-era SADF did similar things and many defence forces did the same.
Prominent Western Cape defence contractor Richard Young of CCII, who was one of those invited to be a sponsor, said in an e-mail to Mr Hamilton that smaller companies would be disadvantaged and this was probably unconstitutional and unlawful. He later told Business Day this would compromise the independence of military tender procedures as “the AMD responses put this sponsorship activity purely in the realm of marketing. Sponsoring a buyer can only lead to a conflict of interest. Sponsoring a state buyer is a conflict of interest that is unlawful. There are enough legitimate avenues for marketing. If a buyer knows of a company that has contributed R20 000 or R100 000 to its luxury, it can hardly ignore this largesse when it comes to buying”.
Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier said it was a “simple cash-for-access scandal”, with the defence industry bankrolling a meeting in return for access to the highest decision makers in the military. “There are major conflicts of interests here and it is completely unethical and possibly illegal,” he said and called for Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to intervene to ensure the meeting was moved to an alternative, more reasonably priced venue, launch an internal investigation and ensure that any money collected from the defence industry was returned. He would refer the matter to the public protector and auditor-general (AG) for investigation.
Attempts to get comment from the chief of the SANDF were unsuccessful, Business Day says. It is understood the AG was “livid” when informed of the matter.