Swedish government to pay all outstanding debts in SA

By Time of article published Dec 6, 1999

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Stockholm - The Swedish government would pay all outstanding debts in South Africa incurred during the Sweden-South Africa Partnership Week last week, Anna Lindh, the foreign affairs minister in Sweden, said on Friday.

The step would probably save the public relations company Rikta, which many suspected would go bankrupt. The announcement is also welcome news to about 30 South African companies which are still owed money by Rikta.

Now supporters of the government are striking back, saying that contrary to headlines of disaster and mismanagement, many more positive events, with which the highly criticised Swedish agency Rikta had nothing to do, did indeed take place.

A high-level bilateral commission had been established between the South African and the Swedish governments. Jacob Zuma heads the commission in South Africa and Lena Hjelm Wallen, the Swedish deputy prime minister, heads it in Sweden.

The first important point on the commission`s agenda was that Sweden would speak on behalf of South Africa in the European Parliament. It would also work for the abolition of the trade restrictions which were causing South Africa numerous export problems.

According to South African sources in Stockholm, the trade fair at Gallagher Estates, which was the centre of accusations over the misuse of development aid money, quickly generated some direct results.

The South African information technology (IT) industry in particular had shown specific interest in developing the Scandinavian market. IT companies specialising in banking would probably use Sweden as a springboard to enter Europe.

As the Swedish prime minister returned to Sweden and the headlines in the Swedish media calmed down, the work of finding out what went wrong with the aid funds had already started.

Ulla Strom, Sweden`s ambassador to Namibia, has been appointed to form a commission of inquiry into the process of tender, the contracts and the funding.

The commission is expected to determine who and what was responsible for the disastrous concert arrangements.

Rikta, the public relations agency in charge, accepted the blame at the time of the prime minister`s return.

But Rikta, a rather trendy public relations agency, not knowing very much about South Africa, worked with TWA Simeka, a local public relations company which will also be questioned by the commission of inquiry.

Sources in development and former anti-apartheid circles are now asking why the foreign affairs ministry did not ask for help and advice from the hundreds of people and numerous Swedish organisations which had worked with South Africa over many years. - Independent Foreign Service

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