Judge Willie Seriti during the Arms Procurement Commission hearing at Sammy Marks Square, Pretoria. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

Johannesburg - Government officials are explaining the arms deal at the official inquiry, but much of the detail remains blocked by the commission itself.

Earlier this month, National Treasury deputy director-general Andrew Donaldson provided a detailed submission of the costs of the controversial 1999 arms deal to the Arms Procurement Commission.

The costs of the deal have been a key point of criticism and debate, with critics of the deal questioning the numbers and politicians largely dodging the issue.

The commission sits in Pretoria, and although the hearings are technically public, the logistics of attending limits access, and this is compounded by the commission’s refusal to make key documents public.

Some documents are not released to the media and very little is put online on its website.

Donaldson submitted a 53-page statement, plus lengthy annexures, on how the Treasury was involved in the deal and how the numbers add up.

He gave the total expenditure on the deal as R46.666 billion. That includes R38bn borrowed from foreign banks, but excludes the debt interest costs of about R13bn and debt fees of about R211 million.

Based on this, The Star calculated the total spending – the cost of the equipment plus the debt cost – as nearly R60bn.

The commission put online only a vague, one-page outline of Donaldson’s evidence.

The hearings were open and transcripts are available online, but much is meaningless without the rest of the documents.

Despite several requests, the commission gave The Star only the main statement, but not the annexures.

This difficulty with documents is now routine at the hearings.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) is at the hearings for critics Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC MP, and researchers Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren. LHR got the Donaldson documents, but the commission then withdrew some because they weren’t declassified.

The Treasury didn’t object to the documents being used.

LHR’s David Cote told The Star the documents had to be declassified by the cabinet.

Cote said it was a nightmare obtaining documents from the commission, and getting them on time, which hampered cross-examination.

“I’m not sure if anything has been revealed from the testimony itself, but the process has allowed us to see the documents – and use the documents – that we were never allowed to before. That has been helpful,” Cote said.

Holden and Van Vuuren previously estimated the total cost was R70bn.

“I’m delighted that we finally have sufficient detail to calculate the cost of the arms deal with reasonable certainty,” Holden said after viewing the documents provided to LHR.

“If the figures are accurate, I’m also overjoyed that the total cost is less than the R70bn I estimated…

But we should not lose sight of the fact that just under R60bn is still a huge sum of money that could have made a major impact on South African society if it had been spent on South Africa’s real security threats, namely poverty and inequality.”

Arms deal critics who aren’t represented at the hearings can’t get the details, so they remain sceptical.

“According to the Treasury, in evidence given at the commission of inquiry into the deal, the debacle cost R46.666bn, financed with loans from foreign banks, with loan costs totalling R51.3bn. However, it is believed that this is understated and is probably more in the region of R70bn or more, but no one really knows the real cost,” commented the Ceasefire Campaign after Donaldson’s evidence.

Arms deal critic Terry Crawford-Browne, whose 2010 case in the Constitutional Court led to the inquiry being set up, expressed similar scepticism in a letter to the court last week.

He wrote that Donaldson told the commission “that the cash outlay to date for the acquisitions was R46.666bn, and that 68 percent of the capital had been repaid.

He added that the increase in costs due to depreciation of the rand was less than 3 percent. But this is not credible, given that the rand has depreciated since 1999 by 68 percent to the US dollar from R6.25: US$1 to R10.5, and by 79 percent to the euro from R8.12: euro 1 to R14.50,” Crawford-Browne wrote.

Donaldson’s statement – which the commission has been reluctant to release – dealt with the depreciation of the rand.

Crawford-Browne asked the Constitutional Court to close down the inquiry due to a lack of transparency and to cancel the arms deal contracts.

The Star