Military hardware acquired during the controversial 1999 arms deal should be sent back to the different suppliers, the Seriti commission of inquiry heard on Wednesday.
“I submit that repudiation of the arms deal contracts would signal the international community that South Africans are in fact serious about dealing with corruption,” anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne told the inquiry in Pretoria.
“May I also respectfully suggest that the commission recommends to President Jacob Zuma that BAE, German Frigate Consortium, German Submarine Consortium, Thales and Augusta be blacklisted not only in South Africa but internationally?”
He said it was irrational for the new South African government, which had inherited an almost bankrupt economy, to buy lavish military hardware. “The purchase was fraudulently disguised through the offset programme as some unique opportunity to stimulate South Africa’s economic development and to create jobs.”
He said the arms deal was “guesstimated” to have cost South Africa over R70-billion, which was likely to be grossly understated. Crawford-Browne said evidence showed that Barclays Bank of England financed the acquisition of the BAE Hawk and the BAE/Saab Gripen fighter aircraft. Commmerzbank of Germany financed the purchase of the four frigates and three submarines.
Societe Generale in France financed Thomson CSF combat suites in the German frigates. Mediocredito Centrale in Italy backed the purchase of 30 Augusta helicopters.
Not designed for African conditions
Crawford-Browne said the Commerzbank foreign loan agreements for the frigate purchase contracts ran for 13 years, and should have been repaid by 2012. The loan agreement for the submarines was extended until 2016.
The Barclays Bank loan for the Hawk and Gripen fighter jets were for 20 years, running until 2019. Crawford-Browne said the testimony of Andrew Donaldson, a deputy director general at Treasury, indicated that “the liabilities” had been extended to 2021.
The commission was appointed by Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the arms procurement deal. Government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.
Under cross-examination, Crawford-Browne said the fighter jets acquired by South Africa were not competitive. The vocal critic was cross-examined by Jennifer Caine, for the defence department. “The Gripens won the best military value competition according to evidence available to this commission. From your personal knowledge, do you have any basis to submit that that is not correct?” said Caine.
Crawford-Browne said the Gripen aircraft was not even designed for African conditions. “In 1997 the SA Air Force had informed government that the BAE proposals [to supply the planes] were unsuitable and too expensive for South Africa’s requirements.
“The air force also said the Gripen was specified for Scandinavian conditions, not our conditions,” said the activist.
Caine remarked that Crawford-Browne was the most evasive witness she had ever cross-examined. “You have said the Gripens were an embarrassment to Sweden and had not been sold to any other country. You are quite mistaken about the Gripen,” said Caine.
Cancel the contracts
Crawford-Browne said government had been warned to cancel the contracts before the goods were delivered. “South Africa was the first acquisition. They then used that sale to market the planes further. Each one had a variety of question marks over the bribes paid to market the planes,” he said.
Caine said apart from South Africa, the war planes had been exported to countries including Morocco, Chile, Greece, Pakistan and Turkey. Crawford-Browne said he was a pacifist, who believed that no arms should be acquired.
“There is invariably conflict both between people and countries but it is far more effective to find a non-violent means than to use a military response to every conflict.
“We see that at the present time in the Middle East. I make no apology for being a pacifist,” said Crawford-Browne. Caine retorted: “And neither do I ask you to.” The inquiry continues. – Sapa