Mbeki: integrity of the arms deal intact

Writing an opinion piece titled The truth stands in the way of the arms accusers in the ANC Today in November 2001, former South African President Thabo Mbeki wrote on the Arms Deal saga of how investigators had found that “there was no truth whatsoever to any suggestion that either the Cabinet Sub-Committee or the Cabinet is guilty of corruption”.

YESTERDAY, the three-member team requested by our Parliament to investigate various allegations of misconduct with regard to the acquisition of weapons for our National Defence Force presented its report to our Members of Parliament and the country. As the country knows, the team is composed of the Auditor General, the Public Protector and the National Director of Public Prosecutions.

After conducting the most detailed, extensive and intensive investigation of its kind, certainly since 1994, the investigation team came to the firm conclusion that the allegations of corruption with regard to the process and results of the acquisition had absolutely no substance. It found that government was not guilty of any corruption.

When the decision was taken to acquire new weapons systems for our Navy and Air Force, our government, led by Nelson Mandela at the time, constituted a Cabinet Sub-committee to handle this matter in detail and to report to the Cabinet. This sub-committee was chaired by the then Deputy President, the author of this Letter, and included the Ministers of Defence, Finance, Trade and Industry and Public Enterprises. This sub-committee made all the major proposals relating to this acquisition, which were presented to the Cabinet for its decision.

The decisions we are speaking of relate to the principal contracts. They encompass contracts for the acquisition by our National Defence Force of complete ships and aircraft, consistent with the defence requirements of the SANDF. Once they were entered into, the contracts required of the suppliers that they deliver to the SANDF functioning and effective weapons system, defined in the tender documents and refined during the process of negotiations with each particular principal contractor. Naturally, the contracts required of us, the buyer, that we meet our own contractual commitments with regard to agreed payment for the weapons systems we would receive.

Once our government entered into agreements with the principal contractors, all of them being major international companies, these corporations were then free to negotiate and enter into their own secondary contracts with other companies. The latter would be corporations that have the possibility to supply them with goods and services that would enable them to meet their obligations as principal contractors.

With regard to this particular matter, it is important that two points are properly understood. One of these is that the ultimate recipient of the weapons systems, the SANDF, would have to assure itself that the goods and services supplied by the sub-contractors, were of a nature and quality that would not impair the effectiveness of the weapons the principal contracted companies were required to supply.

The second of these is that, despite this material interest on our part, the decision rested exclusively with the principal contractors to decide who the sub-contractors should be. At no point was this principle compromised. The principal contractors, and not the government, are therefore responsible for all sub-contracts entered into for the acquisition of all the weapons systems that the principal contractors will deliver to the SANDF.

Given what we have said, it therefore follows that when allegations of government corruption were made, suggesting that there had been improper behaviour in the decision-making process relating to the acquisition, this could only mean that the accusation was levelled at the Cabinet Sub-Committee, the Cabinet and the principal contractors.

The reason for this was what we have already stated. It is that the major proposals made to the Cabinet for decision, originated from the Cabinet Sub-Committee. The Cabinet took its decisions after considering proposals made to it by the Cabinet Sub-Committee. At no point did the Cabinet take decisions based on recommendations it received from any of the lower structures and organs that reported to and facilitated the work of the Cabinet Sub-Committee.

I mention all the points above to deal with the issue of culpability. If the investigation had established that there was corrupt practice that resulted in the Cabinet taking a decision that it would otherwise not have taken, the blame would have rested in the first instance and squarely, with the Cabinet Sub-Committee.

To repeat, the investigators have found that there is no truth whatsoever to any suggestion that either the Cabinet Sub-Committee or the Cabinet is guilty of corrupt practice. They also state the matter plainly that there is nothing in the acquisition process that is so flawed that it resulted in untoward behaviour on the part of those who had the power and possibility to take the principal substantive decisions.

In spite of everything we have said so far, the fact however is that for a long time now, our country and people have been subjected to an intense campaign that sought to convince everybody that there was clear evidence of corruption with regard to the defence acquisition.

Names of persons, institutions and organisations were bandied about with gay abandon, all of them allegedly involved in the most despicable corrupt practice. Firm predictions were made that the heads of important people in our country would roll. Intense public battles were fought around the question of who should be mandated to dig up the dirt and who was courageous enough to expose the evil-doing, whatever our government said about the probity of the acquisition process.

The charge was made that our young democracy faced its worst ever crisis. It was said that everything we had said about commitment to clean government had been exposed as the most shameful scam and deceit. The very top of our system of government, the National Cabinet, had been exposed as the very heart and source of corruption.

The mass media went to town to emphasise these messages. Every accuser was given the necessary space to be heard and seen both domestically and internationally. People of no consequence to our national life became the acclaimed heroes and heroines of the cause of honest, transparent and accountable government.

Villainy was projected as nobility. The honest were mocked as a pathetic example of dishonesty, while the dishonest were paraded as the very repository of morality itself. People who still have to account for the role they played in the perpetuation of the apartheid system, including involvement with murder squads, became the greatest possible defenders of high morality.

Others, who discharged other functions in the counter-offensive of the apartheid system, emerged as the greatest democrats and representatives of the people that our country had ever seen. People within our movement sought to project themselves as the best examples of our political and moral traditions on the basis that they had the courage to stand up to the corruption of our government.

Judges stood up to assert that, empowered by information they already had, they occupied a unique position as the only public agents with the integrity to expose the real truth about the boundless immorality of our government.

Various individuals in our society were publicly found guilty, long before any charge was laid against them and long before any court of law made any determination about the truth of any allegations the accusers elected to make. It became an established view that the accused had to prove their innocence. Similarly, it became an established view that what the accusers said was obviously true and required no substantiation.

Genuine opinion makers came to be defined as those who were most daring and outrageous in the accusations they made. The most acceptable truths became any assertions made that were the most diametrically opposed to what the government said.

The phrase, the arms scandal, became an established fact of our country’s political vocabulary. Each allegation of corrupt practice was immediately marketed as established fact. Thus was the situation created according to which there was no doubt whatsoever that the guilty were guilty as charged. Thus was the expectation created that, necessarily, the investigation team would find the accused guilty as charged. Thus was it said that if this result was not achieved, it would prove that the investigators were themselves part of the corruption.

So has it now been said, boldly, that the report of the investigation team is a cover-up and that the team’s verbal presentation to our Members of Parliament yesterday was nothing more than a public relations exercise. The truth stands in the way of the accusers. Necessarily, the truth must be denied. Necessarily, the point must be established that democracy has brought us the curse of a rotten government.

Necessarily, the perception must be created that those who fought against apartheid threaten our happiness. So must it be known that the gift of hope resides among those who benefited from the system of apartheid, in one way or another, to one degree or another, both black and white, and not those who fought and defeated this system.

At the base of all this, lies the racist conviction that Africans, who now govern our country, are naturally prone to corruption, venality and mismanagement. It is therefore not very difficult to propagate the absolute falsehood and gross insult that our government is, necessarily and obviously, guilty of corruption with regard to the defence acquisition.

As soon as the report of the investigators was issued yesterday, so soon did the campaign begin to discredit this report. The truth will not be allowed to stand in the way of what had to be proved – that Africans and black people in general are corrupt. The struggle for the creation of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society demands that we respond to this without equivocation.

We have the facts about the defence acquisition. The question that remains to be answered is whether we have the courage and morality to demand an end to the insulting lie communicated everyday, that, as Africans, we are less than human.

ARMS PROBE I – institutions of democracy are working

THE REPORT of the joint investigation into the arms deal, which was tabled in Parliament on Thursday, is a signal that the institutions of democracy are working.

The report, which has yet to be considered by the relevant parliamentary committees, is the result of an investigation by the Public Protector, Auditor-General and National Director of Public Prosecutions into government ‘s Strategic Defence Procurement Packages. Parliament requested the investigation after a number of concerns were raised by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and allegations were made about misconduct and corruption in the procurement process.

The report confirms the ability of those institutions charged with promoting democracy, accountability and the rule of law to investigate, without prejudice or favour, allegations of wrong-doing in government or by individuals. It is a signal that serious allegations can be effectively and thoroughly probed; that allegations without any basis can be disproved; and allegations of substance can be acted upon.

Government has accepted the findings of the investigators “without reservation”, and said it would take all necessary steps to implement their recommendations. The investigation proved the “integrity of our democratic system, its capacity for self-correction and the robustness of our institutions”.

While government defended the integrity of the procurement process from the outset, it encouraged a thorough-going investigation to check the allegations. It pledged its full support and cooperation with the investigation.

The report indicated government cooperated with the investigation to the fullest extent possible.

The government “went beyond the call of duty”, including the unusual step to allow classified documents on deliberations of cabinet and its committees, as well as sensitive information on the state of the defence force, to be aired publicly.

This commitment by government to transparency is not unprecedented. The arms procurement package was itself concluded after a lengthy and thorough process in which the government went to great lengths to ensure its integrity, transparency and fairness.

The report acknowledged the Strategic Defence Packages were unique toSouth Africa, since it was the first time ‘package approach’ to the acquisition of armaments was adopted. It found the policy on arms acquisitions was adequate, comparing favourably with defence policies in theUnited KingdomandAustralia.

ARMS PROBE II – integrity of the arms deal intact

THE INTEGRITY of government’s arms procurement package has been confirmed by the findings of the joint investigation of the Public Protector, Auditor-General and National Director of Public Prosecutions.

“No evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by the Government,” the report said. The findings of irregularities and improprieties on the part of certain government department officials cannot be ascribed to the President or ministers in their capacity as cabinet members, it said.

It said however that there may have been individuals and institutions who tried to use their positions improperly to get undue benefits in relation to the package. The Directorate of Special Operations is investigating all these matters.

The decision to buy the arms arises from the Defence Review, from February 1996 and April 1998, which assessed the country’s security and defence needs. This review enjoyed the support of virtually all the parties in parliament. In its response to the report, government said: “Indeed, the increasing demands on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), the evolution of the situation inSouthern Africaas well as the September 11th and subsequent events underline the fact that democracy, freedom and human rights require more than morality and ‘miracles’ to

protect,”

Government said it will continue with the acquisition process as it is in the interest of the country.

The report confirmed the position that, while government has an interest in the overall reliability of the package, the final decisions about subcontractors remain the responsibility of the main contractor.

It said the industrial participation obligations and performance guarantees for suppliers compare favourably with other countries that use ‘counter-trade’ practices.

While the defence department’s head of acquisitions, Chippy Shaik, had declared the conflict of interest arising from his brother’s interests in a company supplying equipment to the navy corvettes, the investigation found he did not recuse himself properly.

Government said it noted instances of conflict of interest mentioned in the report, including the recommendation that the defence department and Armscor develop specific rules and guidelines to address issues of conflict of interest, and ensure staff are properly informed of these.

On the alleged involvement of former defence minister Joe Modise in a company which was to benefit from the arms procurement package, the report said no evidence of impropriety was found in either the public or forensic investigations. It said, however, that such a system “seems extremely undesirable as it creates negative public perceptions about a process that might otherwise be in order”. Cabinet had already taken a firm decision on the principle of ‘retrospective conflict of interests’ at its Lekgotla in July.

Government said it should be emphasised that “these investigations do not, and should not be construed to, detract from the Key Findings and Recommendations of the report, about the rigour and integrity of the formal acquisition process involving government”.

“The decisions of the acquisition process stand – there will be no further review,” it said.

Both the findings and the recommendations of the report speak to critical lessons for the future, it said.

“Now we have the facts. Government hopes that all South Africans, especially those who describe themselves as political leaders, as well as the media, will handle the report’s findings and recommendations in the same spirit.

“For anyone to question the integrity of the report simply because they do not like the findings of a thorough public and forensic audit conducted by the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the National Director of Public Prosecutions, would smack of opportunism of the worst order,” it said.

The needs of the SANDF, which has a constitutional mandate to fulfil, should no longer be treated as a political football. “It is also critical for all of us to desist from making unsubstantiated allegations against government and the investors with whom our country has decided to build strategic relations well into the future,” government said.

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