Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2001-12-11 Reporter: Barry Streek Editor:

Investigators Stick to Arms Findings


Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2001-12-11

Barry Streek

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The much-heralded two-day grilling of the arms deal investigators by Parliament's public accounts committee has turned out a damp squib, with little of significance emerging

acing Parliament's public accounts committee, Auditor General Shauket Fakie admitted he had submitted the investigators' draft report to the Cabinet but said only he and Speaker Frene Ginwala had prior access to the final report. He also denied that the Cabinet had determined the terms of reference for the inquiry by the joint investigating team.

The investigators - Fakie, Public Protector Selby Baqwa and National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka - were peppered with questions, particularly by the Democratic Alliance's Raenette Taljaard and Hendrik Schmidt. But the three maintained they had found no evidence that any individual, including the Department of Defence's chief of acquisitions, Chippy Shaik, had influenced the selection process for the procurement contracts.

Baqwa conceded that there was room for an individual to influence the process - "this was a question that agonised our minds" - and they had investigated the possibility that Shaik had influenced the signing of the contracts. "I am not saying he [Shaik] didn't do it, but we didn't find any evidence that he did."

Fakie said the investigators had issued Shaik with 40 pages of questions and cross-examined him for two days.

Ngcuka maintained that even if all the allegations still being investigated by his directorate proved true, this would not affect the report's main findings that there was no improper or unlawful conduct by the government, and that there were no grounds to suggest that its contracting process was flawed.

The seven parliamentary committees that have been hearing evidence on inquiry are finalising their reports to Parliament, although the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), whose first report on the deal sparked off the investigation, is only expected to finalise its report next week.

The committees, all of whom have healthy African National Congress majorities, will almost certainly endorse the investigating team's main findings. But they may recommend some changes to procedures and legislation, particularly with regard to conflict of interest. There is also concern about the law on bribery, particularly with regard to the payment of gifts. All the reports will be discussed in Parliament early next year.

In his evidence, Fakie confirmed a draft of the report was submitted to the Cabinet, but this was part of due process and in line with the auditor general Act. The executive made no substantive changes and only suggested amendments to the format of the report. "There was nothing in this report that was identified as issues of national interest that needed to be taken into account."

Although the Mail & Guardian reported last week that Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota wrote to Fakie that "the terms of reference [of the inquiry] must be discussed with all the relevant ministers before final approval can be given", Fakie denied that this had taken place. "The assurance I want to give you is that the terms of reference were determined by us as investigators. Nobody - but nobody - interfered or contributed to our terms of reference. As a point of departure we have taken the concerns raised by Scopa as our first terms of reference.

"The idea was to have a very focused approach to this investigation, based on those allegations."

Meanwhile DA leader Tony Leon has argued that government could save as much as 29% of the total cost of the arms deal by cancelling the optional tranches. "That's equivalent to the entire health and welfare budget of the Eastern Cape. Or the entire national education budget."

Leon said for the original cost of 12 Hawk and 19 Gripen aircraft, the government could double the number of police officers to protect South Africans against crime, provide 4,5-million destitute South Africans with a basic income grant of R100 a month for one year, provide every child raped in South Africa with immediate medical treatment, save the lives of 53 000 babies born to HIV-positive mothers, or provide housing subsidies to 337 500 homeless families.

The Cabinet had to urgently commission a new affordability study before March next year, Leon said.

With acknowledgement to Barry Streek and the Mail & Guardian.