Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Arms deal inquiry could be the shortest in history

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday confirmed that a judicial commission of inquiry into South Africa’s arms deal will be appointed.

According to reports the president agreed to appoint a commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption in the 1999 contract for ships, aircraft and submarines with the Dispatch Online confirming that an affidavit was sent to veteran anti-corruption activist Terry Crawford-Browne in terms whereof Zuma agreed to “appoint a commission of inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing in the SDPP (strategic defence procurement package)” and to pay the costs of Crawford-Browne’s application to the Constitutional Court.

Whether this was the most compelling catalyst for the decision or whether this must be seen in conjunction with the new evidence which recently emerged from the arms industry is irrelevant, the fact is, according to analysts, the president has taken a positive decision.

In order to understand how the commission may be convened, its powers and the law governing inquiries of this nature look no further than constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos

As the professor correctly points out : “Only time will tell whether the announcement today that President Jacob Zuma has decided to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (generally known as the “arms deal”), will be a political disaster or a masterstroke and whether the President will appoint a fearless and respected person to head the Commission or whether he will choose a ‘sound’ person to investigate the arms deal.”

As many parties and organisations are supporting the president on this I will certainly not be the one raining on the parade. I will give it my full support in following its developments and trying to assist readers in understanding it.

Notwithstanding the above I would like to make the following observations.

As I have said repeatedly in the past I would be very surprised to learn that there is not enough evidence on the table right now for the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Services to make a decision on whether to charge a number of suspects.

This matter has been running for nearly 12 years and in that time numerous allegations have emerged.

In July the Hawks took the first step towards re-opening the arms deal probe following admissions by Swedish defence group Saab that its former British partner, BAE Systems, paid R24 million in bribes to secure a South African contract for 26 JAS Gripen fighter jets. All told, BAE systems spent R1 billion on what it called “commissions” in the arms deal.

Then there is also allegedly a report that purportedly claims that improper payments were made by Ferrostaal to arms deal consultants. The report was allegedly commissioned by Ferrostaal itself.

These latter developments — Saab and Ferrostaal — only emerged in 2011 and are on top of all the other evidence that occasioned a clamour in South Africa for action being taken years ago.

In real terms therefore the inquiry is retarding the actual charging of suspects by a number of years.

In addition once the Protection of Information Bill is in place one can only wonder at how many of the documents will be classified and thereby excluded from the inquiry. Could be the shortest inquiry in history.

Never mind, it’s the thought that counts.

Zuma’s arms deal inquiry cartoon

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