The reopening of the arms deal inquiry saga this week by Corruption Watch and Right2Know is both a good and bad thing: if the application to set aside the findings of the commission chaired by Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Willie Seriti is successful, those implicated could face jail time – but we have wasted almost R140 million on absolutely nothing.
The two civil society organisations filed an application in the High Court in Pretoria to set aside and review the commission’s findings into allegations of fraud, money laundering and corruption during the arms deal procurement programme. They argued that the commission’s findings were a whitewash and that the commission ignored contradictory evidence.
And I must agree with them: the commission was a facade and a waste of hard-earned taxpayers’ money.
How can no one be held accountable for the bribes and kickbacks that were allegedly paid by European defence companies which sold a range of sophisticated military equipment to South Africa?
It is outrageous that a judge could come to such mind-boggling conclusions after being presented with detailed evidence.
BAE Systems, for example, has been accused by authorities in the UK of paying £115 million (R2.1 billion) in “commission payments” (a phrase often used to describe bribes) to win the contract.
Both the German Submarine Consortium and the German Frigate Consortium have been accused of making payments to officials overseeing the arms deal selection process, such as the chief of acquisitions, Shamim “Chippy” Shaik, whose brother Schabir was convicted of corruption in the deal in 2005.
Former president Jacob Zuma, meanwhile, is facing criminal charges for allegedly receiving bribes from the French contractor Thales to help protect the company from criminal investigations – and for allegedly receiving payments from Schabir Shaik to ensure that Shaik’s company was given a slice of the arms deal.
According to the department of justice, the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of Fraud, Corruption, Impropriety or Irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages cost R137 million over the four and a half years it operated.
This, however, did not include the stupendous legal costs that would have been incurred by the government departments and employees who had legal representation to appear at the commission for every day of its proceedings. This would have significantly increased the total cost to the state, although these costs have not been disclosed.
When the arms deal was announced, it was claimed that it would cost R30 billion. That was a massive understatement. The most recent estimates suggest that it cost at least R65 billion up until 2018, with payments still being made on the deal up until 2022.
If that money had been spent on low-cost housing, government could have built more than two million homes. Or it could have created 100,000 entry-level jobs for over a decade.
It will be interesting to see what judgment the court will come to, but I am not holding my breath.