DA questions SA arms exports regime

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The Democratic Alliance is questioning the South African government’s adherence to its own arms control legislation.
It says sales of grenade launchers, glide bombs and upgraded military assault rifles to Libya, Syria and Venezuela were not properly authorised by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC).
The Star newspaper this morning reported the party, the largest opposition body in Parliament, is calling on NCACC chair and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to launch “an urgent investigation” into the deals and halt the export of any military equipment not yet delivered.
It also wants pending deals to be investigated, including the sale of aviator G-suits to Iran and ammunition for assault rifles and handguns to Zimbabwe, as well as permission that was granted to a South Africa-based company to market to North Korea radar-warning receivers used by submarines to detect aircraft, the newspaper says.   
 DA shadow defence and military veterans minister David Maynier said yesterday that since the committee – set up in 1995 to ensure that arms trade conforms to international best practice – last met in May or June 2008, “several dodgy deals appear to have slipped through the cracks”.

He also says deals worth billions of rand were on ice due to a huge backlog of permits awaiting the committee’s scrutiny. “The information at my disposal is that permits have been issued authorising arms deals at meetings of the NCACC without a full quorum.
“Some arms deals have been authorised by one or two members of the committee, neither of whom were the chairperson or deputy chairperson of the NCACC,” adds Maynier.
“Decisions were effectively being taken and permits issued authorising arms deals by officials.”

The NCACC last met 13 months ago, when its chairman was former provincial and local government minister Sydney Mufamadi.

Mufamadi quit in September last year in protest over the ANC’s sacking of former president Thabo Mbeki.
According to The Star the committee was newly constituted about three months ago, with Radebe as its chairman and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor as his deputy. [defenceWeb believes the time reference is wrong. The NCACC was much more recently appointed. Editor]

Radebe’s spokesman, Tlali Tlali, referred The Star to government communications chief Themba Maseko for comment on Sunday, but Maseko was unavailable and did not respond to SMSes.
“This information has taken a month for me to collect. It is based on sources and documentation. All the deals have taken place in the last 12 to 13 months. The deal with North Korea took place in the last three years,” said Maynier.

He also accused the committee of violating the law by failing to produce annual reports to Parliament over the past five years.

This was despite Mufamadi promising former National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete – in a letter dated March 5, 2008 – that the NCACC was going to submit “all its required reports to all relevant institutions in good time”.

The DA MP said the country had failed to live up to its moral high ground that “human rights will be the light that guides our foreign affairs”.
“The danger is that even if the NCACC met regularly, was fully staffed and produced regular reports, dodgy arms deals might still be authorised.” Maynier said the countries to which South Africa had sold arms ranked poorly in terms of human rights records.

However, Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent Helmoed-Römer Heitman said he did not believe South Africa had breached the law by approving the sales, with the exception of the marketing permit in respect of North Korea, which was under a total United Nations arms embargo, and Zimbabwe.
“The one critical issue for me is that the NCACC hasn’t met. Some of these deals went through when the NCACC wasn’t meeting,” he said.
“It is procedurally wrong, and technically (the deals) should not have been approved,” added Heitman.

The Cape Argus reports that Nyami Booi, the chairman of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on defence and military veterans is accusing the DA of “stealing” state information and parading it in public.
 
Booi described the allegations as “gossip and rumour” and said the information was “stolen” – a charge Maynier has empathically denied.
“I did not steal the information. It was brought to my attention and I believed it was in the public interest to disclose – and which I believe is absolutely correct”, Maynier told Independent Newspapers, adding to defenceWeb that he wished Booi would focus on the substance of the matter rather than where the information came from.  

Booi says he is busy working on his committee’s programme and will allocate a time for the NCACC to brief MPs. Maynier says he is not prepared to disclose where he got his information to protect his sources.
“The problem with the NCACC is that they are required (by law) to produce annual reports and they have not done so (over the last five years). The fact is that they failed to submit those reports, which is a contravention of the law,” added Maynier.

Security analyst Laurie Nathan told the Cape Argus it was “intolerable” that South Africa was exporting arms to countries guilty of human rights violations.

He said the country was in breach of its own Arms Control Act, which prohibited the sale of weaponry to countries either at war, or suppressing their own people and abusing human rights.

Nathan said it was “highly questionable” that the deals had been approved without the NCACC having a proper quorum at the time.



Pic: David Manyier pictured last month at the SA- Zim boarder