9 April 2010

South Africa: 'Answers Needed' On Soaring Arms Contracts

Johannesburg — There has been a substantial increase in the value of arms contracts of more than R60bn but there is no indication of what weapons are to be sold or to which countries, the annual report of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) has revealed.

The report, submitted to Parliament by committee chairman Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, indicates that the value of contracts approved last year rocketed from R19,5bn in 2008 to R82,5bn. The increase in value of contracts approved at R63bn is almost double the original value of SA's controversial arms deal, which included frigates, submarines, jet trainers, fighter jets and helicopters.

While controversial sales of arms and ammunition to Syria and Zimbabwe did not go through, the report reveals some weapons were sold to Madagascar at roughly the same time as the island was in the grip of a military coup. This would be in conflict with the NCACC Act, which precludes transfers to countries that are in conflict or where there are human rights violations.

The committee's operations hit the headlines late last year when MP David Maynier, the Democratic Alliance defence spokesman, went public with what he described as dodgy deals with countries that had poor human rights records. These included an application for the sale of rifles to Syria and millions of rounds of ammunition to Zimbabwe. Radebe records that last year there were no transfers of weapons to these two countries.

Maynier said of the increase in contracts value: "Does this mean a huge new conventional weapons export contract was signed in 2009? If so, what is the name of the importing country, what types of conventional weapons will be exported and over what period will the weapons be exported?"

Maynier also noted that R1,7m worth of category D weapons were sold to Madagascar and this category includes riot control products. "The question here is whether we exported riot control products prior to or during the coup and whether these products were used by the military during the coup in Madagascar?"

He complimented the committee on the delivery of its annual report where it has, in the past, been a serial defaulter in submitting reports as required by law.

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