IOL News

January 2012

By Ivor Powell and Marianne Merten

While President Jacob Zuma’s Commission of Inquiry into the arms deal gears up for business, two key critics of the weapons procurement scandal are busy upping the ante.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that the DA’s David Maynier intends to call on Zuma to extend the already wide-ranging terms of reference to include a focus on alleged attempts by government officials to stymie past investigations.

And civil society crusader Terry Crawford-Browne moved in the new year to secure expert advice on the legality and constitutionality of the government’s justification of the weapons procurement programme of the late 1990s on the basis of presumed economic benefits via arms deal offsets.

Crawford-Browne this week told the Tribune that if the legal experts found that the government’s justification of the deal on the basis of offsets was flawed from the beginning, he would move to have the entire arms deal repudiated and declared “unfixable”.

“At issue then for the Commission’s consideration,” Crawford-Browne argued, “will be a public and tangible apology to the people of South Africa by way of cancelling the contracts, returning the warships and warplanes, and repudiating the foreign loan agreements – signed by (then Finance Minister Trevor) Manuel – as fraudulent.

“The financial consequences will then fall to the British and German taxpayers who have guaranteed these loans, which South Africa has not yet repaid and which run until 2019.”

The basis of Crawford-Browne’s intervention lies in Section 217 (1) of South Africa’s constitution. The subsection requires that all government procurements are conducted “in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective”.

It was also on this basis that Crawford-Browne, in 2010, approached the Constitutional Court to rule on the basic legality of the arms deal.

This was after Crawford-Browne was told by then President Kgalema Motlanthe in December 2008 that there was no need for any inquiry.

It was in the fallout from Crawford-Browne’s Concourt action, as the court deadline loomed for Zuma to defend the procurement programme, that in September 2011 he shifted the goalposts to announce that he was instituting a commission of inquiry into the scandal.

Explaining his current initiative, Crawford-Browne noted that, as approved by Parliament, the rationale for entering into the Strategic Defence Procurement Programme was “indisputably, R30 billion spent on armaments would generate R110 billion in offsets to create over 65 000 jobs” – none of which has happened.

Crawford-Browne also highlights the fact – exhaustively canvassed in researcher Paul Holden’s recent book The Devil in the Detail – that “every cabinet minister was repeatedly warned by civil society representatives that offsets are internationally notorious for corruption”.

In particular, Crawford-Browne drew attention to then “Deputy President Thabo Mbeki (with a masters degree in economics), Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel”, who, Crawford-Browne charges, “then abused the powers of public office to squelch investigations into the bribes and corruption that the arms deal unleashed. In so doing, they were either criminally naive or criminally complicit.”

As revealed in a series of articles, the actual performance of weapons manufacturers in terms of offset obligations arising from the arms deal has been dismal at the very least, and the entire process riddled with corruption that has been exposed in the course of corruption investigations in Sweden, Germany and the UK. – Sunday Tribune