/ 28 September 2011

Basson’s bills: A burden SA has to bear, says ANC

Basson's Bills: A Burden Sa Has To Bear

The ANC is not best pleased by the fact that the state is footing Dr Wouter Basson’s legal bills, but says there is nothing to be done about it.

“Dr Basson certainly represents the worst of our history and has dishonoured the medical profession,” lamented ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza on Wednesday. “To the extent that the law prescribes that the state must pay for his legal costs … we have to accept that reality.”

At the third day of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) hearing into whether his medical licence should be revoked or not, Basson told the Mail & Guardian the state was “contractually bound to pay for his defence”.

The council’s prosecution is arguing that Basson behaved unethically when he was head of apartheid’s chemical weapons unit, Project Coast from 1981-1993.

The HPCSA originally charged Basson in 2007 with providing tranquilisers to aid the kidnapping of people outside South Africa, “weaponising mortars with teargas”, manufacturing drugs and tear gas on a “major scale” and providing cyanide for special troops in case they needed to commit suicide.

Justice ministry spokesperson Tlali Tlali confirmed on Wednesday that Basson’s legal representation was being paid for by the state. “This was authorised by the department of defence a few years ago,” he said.

The department was not immediately available to comment on how much it had spent on the HPCSA hearings and Basson’s 2008 unsuccessful high court application to stop the HPSCA from going ahead with its enquiry.

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on justice, David Maynier, said he would “submit a parliamentary question probing the total amount spent by the defence department on legal representation for Wouter Basson”.

State employee
Dr Chandré Gould, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said she expected that Basson’s legal fees were being paid by the government because the charges before him related to his duties head of Project Coast when he was a state employee.

She said the state had also “paid millions towards his defence in his criminal trial”.

Gould was referring to Basson’s acquittal in 2002 on 46 charges including murder, fraud, attempted murder, and drug related charges in the Pretoria high court, after a criminal trial that lasted 30 months.

The hearing continues
On Wednesday, the third day of the HPCSA hearings against Basson started off with legal wrangling over evidence that had been used by the prosecution to argue that the doctor had behaved unethically.

Basson’s lawyer, Jaap Cilliers SC, who also represented him in his criminal trial, won a small victory when some of the evidence from Basson’s criminal case was excluded from the hearing.

The judging panel ruled that an agreement reached before the first hearing in 2007 had specified which evidence from the trial could be used, and that in justifying his conclusion that Basson’s conduct had been unethical, witness Professor Steven Miles had referred to previous testimony by Basson that was not covered by the agreement.

The panel said they would ignore any evidence that had been given that had should not have been included.

Quieten down
On Wednesday Cilliers dissected and challenged Miles’s testimony from Tuesday, during which he explained his conclusion that Basson had behaved unethically.

Miles had said that Basson’s conduct had caused “death and imminent death and brain damage” when the “ethical core of medicine is to promote health”.

He cited breaches of ethical codes established by international conventions, to which South Africa is a signatory.

When Cilliers questioned him about whether the ethical codes were relevant in South Africa, Miles said South Africa was not forced to ratify the codes, but had nevertheless chosen to do so, adding that he had only referred to ethical codes that were in place at the time Basson was involved in Project Coast.

Cilliers got Miles to concede he made “a mistake” in suggesting on Tuesday that a key Basson used was the only key to the chemical store in Delta G, an operation Basson managed that made chemical weapons.

Cilliers also maintained that Miles was not correct when he testified that Basson used a drug named Scoline to tranquilise people in cross border kidnappings.

He said Basson “categorically denied” he used such a drug and that there were effective drugs to tranquilise people but that Scoline was not one of them.

Cilliers also said he was planning to call his own witnesses that would contradict Miles’s testimony at a later stage of the hearing.

At the conclusion of the day’s proceedings, Basson was clearly pleased about how the day had gone, and winked when asked how he thought his attorney had fared.

“Do I look unhappy?” he smiled.