Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
22 October 2009

Arms deal chickens coming home to roost?

News that Juliette Radebe-Khumalo, the Mayor of Lekwa Municipality in Mpumalanga, and her executive councilors were fired after meetings with an ANC delegation yesterday must come as a welcome surprise to all of us. The residents of Sakhile sure seem happy. As The Times report:

Following the announcement that Radebe-Khumalo and the entire executive committee has been axed, jubilant crowds gathered outside the city hall. Sakhile residents sang, blew vuvuzelas and popped champagne bottles in celebration. “Bye bye, Juliette Radebe-Khumalo. We have told you it has always been coming,” they sang. Residents had called for Radebe-Khumalo’s head months ago, saying a municipal finance report showed R30-million in municipal funds that could not be accounted for.

The one person who might feel aggrieved is Radebe-Khumalo. How could she have known that the disappearance of a paltry R30-million would prompt the ANC to act against her? It is not as if this is a common occurrence. If she had followed the ten year saga around the arms deal scandal – also fresh in the news (again!) – she might have been forgiven for thinking that the alleged theft of R30 million would not raise an eyebrow.

It seems to me the kind of unhappiness expressed by the Sakhile residents and by residents elsewhere in South Africa about poor service delivery resulting from nepotism and corruption can at least partly be blamed on the arms deal and the cover up of the corruption associated with the arms deal. Few have been left untainted by the arms deal scandal – including the NPA, former President Thabo Mbeki, current President Jacob Zuma, Trevor Manuel, Jeff Radebe, and Mosieu Lekota.  

The arms deal and the way allegations about corruption in the arms deal was dealt with (or not dealt with), established the template later followed by many ANC politicians who thought that if Manuel, Modise, Lekota and Mbeki would not be held accountable, they also would escape any censure for nepotism and corruption. We are, after all, all innocent until proven guilty. There are many good people in the ANC, but only a few of them spoke up when it became clear that the arms deal was riddled with corruption. Many others actively supported the cover up. The question should be asked why they did not follow their conscience but remained sthum.

Back in 2001 then President Mbeki set the ball rolling when he announced that a formal legal opinion by the Attorney-General of the Western Cape, Adv Frank Kahn SC and the SIU’s own senior legal advisor, Adv Jan Lubbe SC, confirmed that no prima facie evidence of unlawful  conducted existed concerning the Arms Deal. The truth was exactly the opposite as the two gentlemen had stated in their report to Mbeki:

[T]here are sufficient grounds in terms of the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act No 74 of 1996, for a special investigating unit to conduct an investigation, and, in our opinion, such an investigation is warranted.

And yesterday the DA released a damning report in which it provides further convincing evidence that the joint investigation arms deal report was doctored. Comparing a draft report with the final report, researchers demonstrate that:

  • Crucial ‘Overall Conclusions’ reached by the Auditor-General are entirely omitted from the final version of the Report. Notable in this instance is the conclusion that “there were significant flaws in the selection of BAe/SAAB as the preferred bidder for the LIFT & ALFA programme”. This is omitted from the final Report. Following this page, the editor inserts a further note – that certain ‘additions’ need to be made to the overall conclusion. This includes the conclusion that “the joint investigation team found no evidence of impropriety, fraud or corruption by Cabinet [or] Government” and that “government co-operated with the investigation teams and assisted them with their endeavours”.
  • Similar sizeable alterations on the Auditor-General’s findings regarding the ALFA/LIFT contracts are made later on page 57. Here, a passage reads “[t]here is an indication that the former Minister of Defence [Joe Modise] could have influenced the decisions of role players in the process”. Examples are then provided of where this is believed to have happened. This finding is entirely excluded from the final Report. Even the title of this section is earmarked for overhaul. The Auditor-General titles the section “Decisions of the Minister of Defence that could have influenced the process”, which is replaced by “The visionary approach of the former Minister of Defence”:
  • Another crucial section that does not make it: the Auditor-General’s conclusion that “[d]uring the investigation is became apparent that … preference was given to BAe/SAAB”:
  • A section that concludes that apparently preferential treatment given to some ALFA bidders was “not in accordance with good procurement practice” is scrapped. The editor notes that “No evidence of any preference awarded to any of the bidders during these visits were (sic) obtained”. This, of course, is not the point that the Auditor-General’s report was attempting to make. Further down, another passage concluding “fundamental non-compliance with good procurement practices” is also removed. Once more, the editor notes “No evidence” – though again this is not his/her call to make. On the page following this one, another section concluding further “noncompliance with good procurement practice” is also removed.
  • All of the key conclusions drawn by the Auditor-General in one section of the report are removed. The A-G concludes that “deviations from the approval process occurred” and “good procurement practices were lacking”. These failings included “apparent attempts at exertion of influence towards certain subcontractors” and “amendment of the overall formula to determine the preferred bidder”. These crucial findings are not only omitted from the conclusions section of the chapter in the final Report dealing with submarine contracts, but in their place precisely the opposite conclusions are substituted.
  • Throughout the section on submarine contracts, various other changes are made. For instance, the Auditor-General notes that because no minutes of a particular workshop were maintained, there is no evidence that the final NIP value system scores were agreed to by all members present – and that there was the possibility that some individuals may have influenced scores awarded. This is removed, and
    does not appear in the final Report.
  • A section detailing problems experienced dealing with government officials is marked for deletion. The single sentence that appears earmarked to survive the cut is altered such that it reads “[the two attorneys] co-operated with investigating teams and assisted them ably”. Further down, another section on difficulties experienced with state attorneys is cut.
  • At the end of the document the editor of the document makes notes on a copy of the Public Protector Draft Document (Part A of the JIR) under the headings “Trevor Manuel” and “President”. It appears s/he is instructed by Manuel to emphasise the fact that government cooperated with the enquiry (point 8), and that government was not reckless (point 4). The president’s concerns appear to include “country emerging” (point 1); and “Defend integrity of inv. (investigating) agencies” (point 2). This could be problematic if what was implied was that government needed to be protected. A further section headed “Lekota” follows. This is almost certainly, then, ‘feedback’ received from Mbeki, Manuel and Lekota at a meeting in October 2001.

If one reads this report, it is very difficult not to conclude that the final arms deal report was a complete white-wash and that it was fundamentally changed after interference by Mbeki, Manuel and Lekota. Maybe now that many of those involved in the white-wash are out in the political cold winds and the new Zuma administration is trying to show that it is different from the Mbeki lot, the ANC will finally lance this boil and will come clean about the obvious corruption linked to the arms deal and the blatant cover up of that corruption.

If they do that many of us ordinary citizens will see the sacking of mayor Radebe-Khumalo as only the start of a wonderful new beginning. We will praise the ANC for returning to the values it held so dearly before taking power and before some of its members were corrupted by the old business elites – to the detriment of the poor and downtrodden in whose name it fought the struggle.

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