Quote of the week

Regard must be had to the higher standard of conduct expected from public officials, and the number of falsehoods that have been put forward by the Public Protector in the course of the litigation.  This conduct included the numerous “misstatements”, like misrepresenting, under oath, her reliance on evidence of economic experts in drawing up the report, failing to provide a complete record, ordered and indexed, so that the contents thereof could be determined, failing to disclose material meetings and then obfuscating the reasons for them and the reasons why they had not been previously disclosed, and generally failing to provide the court with a frank and candid account of her conduct in preparing the report. The punitive aspect of the costs order therefore stands.

KHAMPEPE J and THERON J
Public Protector v South African Reserve Bank (CCT107/18) [2019] ZACC 29 (22 July 2019)
3 August 2008

Arms deal just won’t go away

When I saw the front page of the Sunday Times this morning my first response was not shock, but amazement. The newspaper reported that a German shipbuilding giant paid President Thabo Mbeki R30m to guarantee it won the submarine contract in South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms deal and that Mbeki gave R2m of this to Jacob Zuma and the rest to the ANC.

The story was based on a secret report compiled in 2007 by a UK specialist risk consultancy. The consultancy was commissioned by a leading Central European manufacturer to investigate the worldwide activities and “questionable business practices” of the shipbuilder, MAN Ferrostaal, which had launched a hostile takeover bid against it.

I was amazed that the Sunday Times would publish such defamatory allegations based on what at first appears to be rather flimsy evidence. Don’t they have libel lawyers working for them? If the story is not true then Mbeki would be able to sue the pant off them – even under the more even-handed libel laws developed by the Constitutional Court.

But then I read further and was even more amazed at the response from the Presidency. According to the Times:

Mbeki’s presidential spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said: “These allegations have been in the public domain for some time, which gives lie to the assertion that they are, for whatever reason, ‘unlikely (to) … be leaked in the near future’. They are of such fantastical proportions as not to warrant any response.” The Sunday Times pointed out to Ratshitanga that this was in fact a new allegation. He failed to respond.

This means that the Presidency has not denied the allegations, merely refused to comment. Where is the moral outrage, the threats of a defamation suit? The response creates the impression that the allegations might well be true. Why on earth not deny the allegations? Why not attack the Sunday Times for its counter-revolutionary tendencies?

It made me wonder. If the allegations were true or at least partly true and Mbeki sued, it would be a disaster for him and the ANC. The Sunday Times lawyers could get access to the ANC financial statements when a defamation case is brought, so is this why the Presidency responded in such a weird manner? Do they have something to hide?

The ANC also did not sue Andrew Feinstein for alleging in his book After the Party that the ANC’s 1999 election campaign was bankrolled by an arms deal bribe. If they do not sue, one will be hard-pressed not to assume the worst. If I was a journalist I would ask Mbeki if he is going to sue and if not why not.

If it was true then it would also explain why Jacob Zuma is so aggrieved for being prosecuted for taking a R500 000 bribe. The double standard would be breathtaking.

Sue Mr President! Otherwise we will have to conclude that you and your party are crooks.

UPDATE: The Presidency issued a statement today that says: “The Presidency would like to place it on record that President Thabo Mbeki has never at any stage received any amount of money from MAN Ferrostaal.  The Sunday Times or anyone who has evidence that the president or anyone else received bribe(s) in the procurement process should, as we have emphasised before, approach the law-enforcement agencies.” I note the Presidency does not deny that the ANC received money….

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