festering sore in our politics

The recent raids by the Scorpions on properties belonging to the late defence minister Joe Modise's colourful former special adviser Fana Hlongwane have once more brought the government's controversy-ridden multi-billion rand arms deal under the spotlight.

The recent raids by the Scorpions on properties belonging to the late defence minister Joe Modise's colourful former special adviser Fana Hlongwane have once more brought the government's controversy-ridden multi-billion rand arms deal under the spotlight.

Two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk, have called on President Kgalema Motlanthe to establish a judicial commission of inquiry.

The same call was made by several opposition parties to former president Thabo Mbeki during his term. Mbeki's response was that a previous inquiry had concluded that there was no evidence of corruption in the deal. He said anyone who had new evidence to the contrary should take it to the authorities.

"British Aerospace Systems (BAE), the arms company that sold South Africa billions of rands worth of fighter jets is alleged to have paid bribes amounting to more than R1,5billion to secure these contracts. These bribes having allegedly been laundered through front companies," Tutu and De Klerk wrote to Motlanthe.

"Allegations of bribery by BAE to secure arms contracts are now under investigation by the authorities of seven countries. BAE executives have even been detained in the US for questioning by the FBI."

They also called on Motlanthe to investigate the "possibility of cancelling arms deal contracts tainted by corrupt and fraudulent dealings, and recovery of payments already made".

The political morality and economic wisdom of embarking on the R30billion arms deal has turned out to be a very expensive exercise - which the South African taxpayer is unfortunately bound to finance. It is estimated the deal, without financing charges and interest, will have cost R47.4billion when final payment is made in 2011.

On April 21 1995 a Sowetan editorial opined: "We cannot agree that, being a country which is faced with the huge task of improving the living conditions of its people, we should divert large sums to buying expensive boats for the navy. We have to agree with the SA Council of Churches that the real enemies of the country are hunger, poverty and homelessness."

In his book, The Arms Deal in Your Pocket, author Paul Holden says an affordability report compiled by the Finance Department was concerned that by spending so much on the arms deal other areas of our society would be ignored, or suffer from less funding.

In 1998 Mbeki, then chair of the of cabinet sub-committee overseeing the purchases, did not agree.

Only a month before then health minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had rejected providing ARVs to pregnant mothers as "the programme was too expensive to even contemplate".

The Joint Health and Treasury Task Team found that providing ARVs to all who needed them would by 2008 cost 10percent of the arms deal - and defer the deaths of 1,721329 people as well as the orphaning of 860000 children.

One of the key motivations for the signing of deals was the amount of money that South Africa would get in return in "offset agreements". Arms companies would directly invest in the country, promoting economic growth or buying goods from South Africa.

The government said offsets would bring investment worth about R110billion, and create roughly 65000 jobs.

Questions are still being asked as to whether these offsets did materialise.

A recent Noseweek article says millions generated at a project initiated by Saab - who won an estimated R22billion tender to supply aircraft - disappeared as part of a scam which benefited several closed corporations linked to government officials.

Such allegations of complicity in corruption against key ANC members, including Thabo Mbeki, ANC president Jacob Zuma and the late Joe Modise, have become part of the arms deal package. This week, De Klerk's former spokesman Dave Steward described the arms deal as a "festering sore in our country's body politic". It is time Motlanthe cleansed this festering sore.

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