Government has examined the statement made by MP Patricia de Lille with regard to the arms procurement process, and we are astounded at the ease with which she elects to question the integrity of the President of our country, Thabo Mbeki.
We would have hoped that, for a Member of Parliament and now a leader of a political party, mere courtesy would have persuaded her to exercise caution and circumspection before levelling these kinds of allegations.
This is moreso because she is regurgitating baseless allegations, more than 18 months after the joint investigation of the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions pronounced on the integrity of the work done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by then Deputy President Mbeki. Besides, her statement reflects a total misunderstanding of the course of events in the bidding process; it confuses the sequence; and it is based on blatant lies.
Ms de Lille asserts that there was a government short-list in 1995 for the acquisition of submarines, in which a German bid was not “originally” included. Cursory research on her part - and on the part of those who have sought to give this assertion such prominence and credence - would have indicated that in 1995 the Defence Review had not been adopted by government and Parliament. This Review, adopted in 1997, dealt with such matters as force design and broad requirements of equipment; and it served as a basis for the acquisition process.
What Ms de Lille either does not know - because her informants may not have told her - or what she chooses to ignore, is that there was an attempt on the part of the leadership of the SA Navy to acquire corvettes, which was rejected by Cabinet in May/June 1995. (Relevant sections of the Joint Report on Strategic Defence Packages by the three investigators, pp 195, 196 and 197 are attached as Annexure I for ease of reference).
In other words, as far as government is concerned, there was no decision then to acquire any such weapons nor was there any bidding or short-list.
The government’s arms procurement process was instituted on the basis of the broad guidelines in the Defence Review, which was adopted with the support of most of the parties in Parliament.
The Joint Report of the three investigators has outlined the processes that were followed, and the uniquely transparent and professional manner in which this matter was handled by government, in particular with regard to the core areas of government’s responsibility: primary contracting. Among the conventions that the Inter-Ministerial Committee adopted was that it would not interact directly with any of the bidders.
The investigations currently being undertaken relate to some secondary contracts; and, in any case, there has not been any suggestion, let alone evidence (prima facie or otherwise), that anyone under investigation had any influence on the Inter-Ministerial Committee which took the final decisions on this matter.
Government has had indications - and had declined as a matter of courtesy to present this in the public domain - that most of the information being peddled by the likes of Patricia de Lille originates from some of the companies which lost out in the bidding process, possibly assisted by some intelligence agencies.
Some of them hoped that they could use the Heath Special Investigations Unit to cancel the contracts; and some still harbour the illusion that they can so discredit the process that decisions of our Parliament and our Cabinet would be reversed.
We have expected all along that this kind of campaign would be waged against our country, to try and change the strategic and technical choices that our government has made on defence matters.
What we did not expect however are the depths to which some political leaders would sink to court publicity, the recklessness with which they will regurgitate information without checking the facts, and the ease with which some individuals will allow themselves to be manipulated.
Government does hope that the media will not fall into the same trap, and will at least check the facts and the logic behind claims that the likes of Ms de Lille are wont to make.
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Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)
Annexure I: Extracts from the Joint Report on the Strategic Defence Packages [Refer www.gov.za]
7.1.4 In 1993 the Naval Board (chaired by the Chief of the Navy) decided to address the problem. The surface ship issue was first. Project Sitron was launched. Due to budget constraints certain requirements were cut and it was decided to opt for patrol Corvettes rather than frigates.
7.1.5 Project Sitron went through all the prescribed project phases and findings. Recommendations were presented to Cabinet in May 1995. Cabinet was, however, not ready to make a decision in this regard. The former Minister of Defence was, at the time, concerned about the issue of block obsolescence of the main equipment of all the arms of service. He thought of the idea of countertrade (off-sets or industrial participation. This, inter alia, led to the concept of a strategic defence package that would benefit the SANDF as a whole.
7.1.6 The force design of the Defence Review included four patrol Corvettes. During the time of the Defence Review, the Navy refined the technical specifications for the Corvettes and submarines and invested in technology retention programmes for possible components and subsystems that could be included in the proposed new vessels.
7.1.7 Requests for Information were sent to the shipyards in the shortlist of project Sitron (Corvettes) after the principle of the acquisition of the Strategic Defence Packages was approved by Cabinet on 23 September 1997. Responses were to be made by 31 October 1997….
220.127.116.11. In 1997 DoD in terms of the MoD policy entered into partnership proposals in respect of the procurement of armaments with the following three countries:
It is a requirement of the MoD policy that there must be a security agreement between the South African Government and the offering country. No evidence of the existence of such an agreement with Spain could be found.
18.104.22.168 On 23 September 1997, MoD distributed RFIs to eleven countries for the procurement of the SDP.
22.214.171.124 Thirty-seven responses were received from nine countries. The RFIs were evaluated subsequent to 31 October 1997 and a short-list of four bidders for the Corvettes was compiled. The short list of 4 bidders consisted of the German Frigates Consortium (GFC) of Germany, Bazan of Spain, GEC of the United Kingdom and DCN International of France. On 13 February 1998 RFOs were sent out to the short-listed bidders and their offers were submitted by the due date of 12 May 1998…