Arms deal credits still classified

2014-02-18 00:00

THREE activists against the multi-billion rand arms deal were again frustrated at the Seriti Commission yesterday because the “affordability report” that listed the credits awarded in the arms deal, was still classified as secret.

Despite this secrecy, Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren, who are represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), have written extensively about alleged irregularities concerning the arms deal credits in their books.

Advocate Annemarie de Vos SC yesterday told the commission she wanted to cross-examine Alec Erwin, who was minister of trade and industry during the arms deal, about the credits.

The inter-ministerial committee used the affordability report to decide which arms supplier to award contracts to.

The report showed what credits suppliers had earned with proposed counter trade agreements and investments in exchange for getting contracts to supply arms to SA.

Erwin yesterday testified the committee had sometimes used their discretion in making recommendations to cabinet.

De Vos afterwards told sister paper Beeld the affordability report was an important component in her cross-examination and that the secret classification of the report could limit her questions.

“There are certain clauses in the contracts on which Erwin would be able to give clarity, but now I first have to ask my clients if we must continue,” she said.

Advocate Barry Skinner, one of the evidence leaders, said the report had been submitted for declassification, but the process had not been finalised yet.

Commission chairperson Judge Willie Seriti asked De Vos how it was possible that her clients had a copy of the report before it was declassified.

She said they did not know the report has not yet been declassified.

Erwin earlier cryptically testified the idea behind the counter trade agreements that accompanied the transactions, had partly been to stimulate the local arms industry.

On a national level the agreements also aimed to stimulate jobs outside the military sectors. “In 1999 there were not many foreign investors who wanted to come to South Africa. At the same time we struggled with joblessness.”

Erwin said the counter trade credits earned by the participating companies were awarded using three guidelines. It had to create economic growth, promote investment and stimulate the economy.

He said if a company met all three demands and would also hold benefits for a region, the company would earn credits in all these aspects.

He said it was a dynamic process and the counter trade projects did not form part of the arms deal, although they did form part of the suppliers’ financial obligations.

While many of these projects were not realised, new projects in their stead were successful, he said.

The commission will continue hearing evidence today.

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