Kasrils defends controversial arms deal

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President Jacob Zuma and ANC stalwart Ronnie Kasrils.

Pretoria - South Africa continues to benefit from the spin-offs of the 1999 arms deal, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said on Tuesday.

Kasrils, who was defence minister Joe Modise's deputy at the time of the transaction, was cross-examined by anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria.

“Mr Joe Modise is quoted as follows: 'In return for our expenditure our economy will benefit by an estimated R110 billion of new investment and industrial participation programmes and the creation of 65 000 jobs',” Crawford-Browne said.

“Mr Kasrils, may I ask, do you know of any shop in the world or any business that gives back a R110 change in return for a R30 purchase?”

Kasrils said the offsets from the arms deal had not been exactly quantified but were rolling in.

“We are benefiting on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. What is needed by the commission is to have real solid facts before it. I want to recommend a very serious study, not something journalistic,” said Kasrils.

He said a former Armscor employee once studied the offsets and came to a figure of R110 billion worth of benefits from the arms procurement.

“I know Mr Crawford-Browne and others might laugh or fall off their seats, but this can be tested. Our defence industry, including the jobs there, was saved by this whole process,” Kasrils said.

Crawford-Browne said the arms deal's envisaged benefits were “illegal, fraudulent and unconstitutional from the onset”.

He said some constitutional imperatives were ignored when the government purchased the arms.

Under cross-examination by advocate Jennifer Cane, for the defence department, Kasrils said he had no regrets.

“I am proud of my role. We were engaged in an extremely historic import in relation to the security of our country. The first precept of the Constitution is the security of our people.

“The defence force needed to be adequately staffed, representative of our people and adequately equipped. Given the obsolescence of the equipment thus came the need to look at equipping the defence force.

“We proceeded in a transparent manner.”

He said the strategic defence procurement package, as the arms deal was known, was a small acquisition when compared to other countries.

“Democratic governments the world over need to have a balance between the socio-economic upkeep and security of their people and the means to defend. I believe what we did was extremely significant.”

Kasrils said several books written on the arms deal transactions were marred by generalisations.

“Perhaps in their minds the authors have a serious approach but there is nothing in their books that can be tested. They have huge generalisations and play on the fact that there could have been some aspects of corruption. That arises out of any major business transaction, be it in books, education, building of dams, and defence.

“To try and make out that it's the government of this country is off the mark,” Kasrils said.

He urged the commission to look at the facts “not like an author of a book”.

“Would the Germans go on having the BMW cars manufactured in East London if we were a country without a navy, without a defence force? You need to create confidence in your trading partners,” Kasrils said.

He said at the time, even Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano was excited when South Africa acquired the naval weaponry.

“The fact that there is a submarine in your fleet gives any would-be aggressor a lot to think about.”

The 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.

Former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and former finance minister Trevor Manuel were at the public hearings on Tuesday. Lekota is scheduled to start testifying on Tuesday evening.

Sapa


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