National Conventional Arms Control Committee: allegations about arms deals

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Defence and Military Veterans

11 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr M Booi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed allegations arising from a report by Mr D Maynier to the effect that the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) had engaged in some suspect arms deals with certain countries, including Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. It was alleged that the decisions in some instances had been taken when there was not a full quorum, although this had later been ratified, and claimed that Section 15 of the Act was being contravened, and that before selling arms the NCACC should be considering whether the sale of those arms would be used to escalate internal conflicts in the countries or contribute to human rights abuses. He further submitted that the NCACC was a “serial defaulter” in that it had failed to submit several required Reports to Parliament. He suggested that the information had not been denied by Minister Jeff Radebe, who had confirmed the arms deals to Libya and Zimbabwe. He was adamant that he would not disclose his source.

Members raised several issues. Some agreed with, and some disagreed with the sale of arms to those countries, but submitted that in any event it was not certain that the NCACC had done anything wrong in terms of the deals. They questioned the source of, and validity of, the information. Some opposition Members pointed out that if the Minister had not denied the information, he could be regarded as the source, whilst others indicated that any information obtained other than from the NCACC itself would be regarded as illegally obtained. Several questioned the procedure that was followed, stating that Mr Maynier should not have approached the media, but should rather have brought the information first to Parliament or taken it up with the Minister. Others noted that Parliamentary privilege, freedom of speech and the powers of politicians had an impact on this question, and it was decided that these issues should also form the subject of a legal opinion. One Member said that she believed Mr Maynier should be removed as a Member of the Committee. It was agreed that legal opinions were necessary on the issues, that there was some difficulty in calling upon the Minister to reply without the sources being made known so that they could be checked, but that after the legal opinion had been obtained, the Minister and the NCACC should be called upon to address the Committee.

Meeting report

Hon D Maynier’s report on National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC)
The Chairperson commented that the issue at hand was an important one, on which this Committee would be engaging for the first time. He noted that many Members had their own individual opinions and he requested that all try to remain calm and dispassionate. He asked Mr Maynier to present the Report to the Committee.

Mr D Maynier (DA) stated that on 2 August 2009 he had held a press conference and had disclosed the allegations around the crisis within the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), and the suspect arms deals that were taking place. He noted that the NCACC had authorised the arms deals without having a quorum.

He pointed out that there was a lack of transparency on the part of the NCACC. He alleged that there had been apparent contravention of Section 15 of the National Conventional Arms Control Act (the Act). He noted that the NCACC, before selling arms to a country, had to consider whether the arms would be used to further escalate conflicts and whether they would be used to contribute to the violation of human rights or other issues. Mr Maynier noted that there were three types of deals in question. The deals “authorised” by the NCACC were arms deals with Libya, Syria and Venezuela. Arms deals “pending authorisation” were with Iran, Syria and Zimbabwe. The NCACC lastly authorised an exhibit and demonstration of radar warning receivers for submarines to North Korea.

Mr Maynier emphasized that Minister of Justice Hon Jeff Radebe had not denied the deals, but had in fact confirmed them. He added that Minister Radebe had conceded that the arms deals had been authorised without the necessary quorum being present. Mr Maynier pointed out that the authorisations had been ratified when quorums had been achieved at later meetings.

Mr Maynier noted that the Chairperson of the NCACC had taken offence when Mr Maynier had called the NCACC “a serial defaulter” regarding submission of Annual and Quarterly Reports to Parliament. He noted that Reports had been received for 2005 and 2006, but that these had been labeled as being confidential and secret. The NCACC should be transparent. Section 23(c) of the Act required reports to be made public. It was felt that the NCACC was hence in breach of this provision.

The Chairperson said that the Act spoke of disclosure and non-disclosure. He said that Section 23 should be read in its totality. The Act must be understood as a whole.

Mr Maynier still felt that the NCACC was not transparent and was a serial defaulter regarding reports to Parliament. He noted that South Africa was acting more like a rogue state than a democracy. Mr Maynier suggested that the NCACC be called before the Committee and be asked what had informed their decisions regarding the arms deals in question. He also wanted the Auditor-General (AG) to be present at that meeting, given that the AG audited the NCACC. Mr Maynier felt that the issue was serious, in light of the fact that the NCACC was in the process of authorising deals with Syria and Zimbabwe within this week.

The Chairperson noted that the both the NCACC and the Minister were supposed to address the Committee on August 2009, but unfortunately the Minister was unavailable on that date. Efforts were being made to try to find a suitable date that would suit all involved.

Ms S Ndabeni (ANC) asked where Mr Maynier had obtained the critical information about the arms deals.

Mr L Diale (ANC) said that Members from different political parties were not enemies, but were partners in the new dispensation. He said that when information was obtained outside of the Committee it should first be brought before the Committee before making it known elsewhere. He was concerned that he had first read about the arms issue in the media, instead of being notified, by way of this Committee, of the issues. This was particularly important as it was a sensitive matter for South Africa.

Mr L Mphahlele (PAC) said that Mr Maynier averred the allegations to be facts and hence they needed to be confirmed. It must also be checked whether any rules or legislation had been breached or broken. He suggested that perhaps the Committee should confine itself to the facts before taking a party position on the issue.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) felt that it was a Member of Parliament's prerogative not to disclose a source of his or her information. The Committee should respect the principle of privilege of members of Parliament.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) noted that Mr Maynier had alleged that Minister Radebe had confirmed some of the facts that had come to light. He noted, however, that the Minister was not present either to confirm or dispute these allegations, but he had heard the Minister stating that he did not agree with these allegations. The issue of whether these were “facts” was still under debate.

Mr Kekana respected the fact that in certain instances sources of information could not be disclosed. The question was then how it was possible to confirm the reliability of sources. It made Members vulnerable to being misled. He stated that a balanced approach was needed.

Mr Maynier categorically stated that under no circumstances was he prepared to reveal the source of his information. He could not understand why he was being questioned, as it was in fact the NCACC that needed to be interrogated on the issues.

Mr Maynier conceded that Minister Radebe had, on Safm, stated that Mr Maynier was incorrect, but he explained that at that time the Minister was caught without having the facts at hand.

Mr M Mhlangeni (ANC) stated that matters of great importance were being dealt with. He was unsure about what the legislation said about the sale of South African weapons to other countries. He asked whether those countries indicated by Mr Maynier had been placed under sanctions by the United Nations, and if any act or law was being contravened. He noted that under the old apartheid regime, many countries continued to supply South Africa with what it needed, despite the existence of sanctions against South Africa. If there was no contravention, then the arms sales could proceed. On the matter of procedure, he said that had he been privy to information of the sort that Mr Maynier had, he would have gone directly to the Minister. If the Minister refused to respond, only then would he have threatened to go to the media.

The Chairperson said that it would be best if the NCACC addressed the Committee on the issue as members felt handicapped by their lack of knowledge and background. The NCACC had to answer for itself and had to present its own facts. The Minister would also be asked to appear before the Committee. Even though there was uncertainty regarding the conclusiveness of the information revealed, Mr Maynier would not be forced to reveal his source. He noted that when dealing with the issue of parliamentary privilege, Members of Parliament had so much power that it was easy to undermine an institution. The information had not been released by the NCACC and hence the Committee had to remain open minded. Guidance was needed from legal advisers on how to deal with the matter. Another question was whether a Member of Parliament could use information obtained without the knowledge of Parliament.

Mr Groenewald said that there were two issues. The first was the revealing of the information, and the second were the arms deals themselves. He was aware that parliamentary privilege was not unlimited. If any law or rule was contravened, then legal advice on the matter needed to be obtained. It must be also checked whether any legislation had been contravened by revealing the information. He agreed that legal advisers should look into the matters.

Mr Groenewald also stated that the Committee had a history of problems with the NCACC as far as the submission of reports was concerned.

The Chairperson confirmed again that the correctness of the information needed to be checked with the NCACC. Legislation needed to be consulted regarding disclosure and non-disclosure of information. Guidance was needed on how to deal with the matter of the deal, and on how to deal with information held by Members of Parliament. He also said that guidance was needed on the reliability of the information and how the Committee would deal with it.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) thought that the law had been violated by the NCACC in two ways. The first was by not submitting its reports to Parliament. The second was the sale of arms to countries that it was not to sell to. The Minister, by confirming the sale of arms to Libya, had contravened Section 15 of the Act.

Ms Ndabeni stated that even though Members of Parliament enjoyed privileges there were limitations. She was concerned whether the allegations were in fact true. She asked Mr Maynier if he was aware that if the information had not been obtained from the NCACC itself, then his source had obtained it illegally. She reiterated that the information should have been brought to Parliament first and should not have been distributed to the media as it was yet to be verified.

Mr Mphahlele asked what was fact and what was fiction. He said that the two issues causing his concern were the source of the information and the second was the validity of the information. He was more concerned about the fact that SA was perhaps selling arms to those countries who had financed other countries such as Israel. He supported the sales of arms to all those countries mentioned by Mr Maynier.

Mr Kekana said that Mr Maynier raised issues over human rights. He said that human rights abuses were taking place daily. He questioned why the Democratic Alliance was holding itself out as being the watchdog of human rights abuses. Mr Kekana referred to the invasion of Iraq, and said that even though the UN had advised against an invasion America (USA) and Britain (UK) had nevertheless invaded. There were a great deal of human rights abuses that had taken place in Iraq. He asked why, then, the DA was silent on taking action against the US and the UK. The major powers themselves were guilty of human rights violations. He said that unfortunately in Africa the opposition parties sought to destroy the credibility of the parties in power, and asked why the parties could not work together to build a better future for their country.

Mr Maynier responded that, in regard to the validity of the facts, Minister Radebe, on 6 August 2009, had not denied the allegations.

Mr Lorimer reacted that in 2007 South Africa had sold 30 armoured vehicles to Iraq.

Mr Groenewald said that Members would have their individual opinions, and he thought that they should wait for legal advice as to whether any contraventions had taken place. He also pointed out that every person displayed their loyalty to South Africa in their own manner.

Ms Ndabeni reiterated that if the information was not obtained from the NCACC then it was obtained illegally.

The Chairperson agreed that legal opinion on the issues would have to be obtained. He noted that legislation set out the process of how information was to be obtained. The question was whether that process had been followed. Article 24 gave guidance on the process. He reiterated that the NCACC and the Minister would be asked to address the Committee. He was more concerned about how to deal with the issue in the Parliamentary precincts.

Mr Maynier was adamant that he would not disclose his source.

The Chairperson said that there were precedents in Parliament. He needed to know the source of the information in order to check on its correctness. The source also must be known in order that the Minister be asked to appear before the Committee and shed light on the issue. The Chairperson asked how this process was to be taken forward.

Mr Lorimer said that the Minister himself was the source of the information if he did not deny the allegations.

The Chairperson said that the Minister had not spoken to Parliament. He had only addressed the media. This did not help the Committee much.

Mr Diale regretted that the Members were at loggerheads. He agreed that it would be difficult to approach the Minister without being able to reveal the source of the alleged information. Mr Diale supported Mr Groenewald's suggestion that legal advice be sought. He agreed that the NCACC would have to appear before the Committee to explain the allegations. He noted that the same issues were being repeated over and over again.

Mr Maynier said that the Minister, on 6 August 2009, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, had confirmed that the NCACC was authorising a deal of thousands of rifles to Syria and ammunition to Zimbabawe. He asked what was going to be done about it since the deal was going to be finalized soon.

Mr Kekana said that the Committee could not be expected to take action on information that had appeared in the media. The NCACC and the Minister would have to first appear before the Committee and shed light on the issue.

Mr Groenewald said that the legal opinion obtained should be forwarded to Mr Maynier in order for him to respond to it.

Mr Mhlangeni agreed that the meeting should be brought to a close. Members had agreed to obtain legal opinion. Members were also unanimous that the NCACC and the Minister should appear before the Committee to respond to the allegations. The Committee could not be expected to respond to what appeared in the media. The Committee would need the information whether there was anything in law that prevented the sales with Zimbabwe and Syria from taking place before making any comment on the issue.

Mr Mphahlele felt that the Committee should take a stand and say that the arms deals should go through. He said that the same individuals talking about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe were friendly with Robert Mugabe in the early 1980s, and only when the land issues were brought forward did they become estranged.

Ms Ndabeni also felt there was nothing wrong with selling arms to Syria and Zimbabwe. She thought that the main issue was that Mr Maynier had taken information to the media first, instead of to Parliament. This could impact negatively on South Africa, especially in light of the forthcoming World Cup. She did not wish to know the source of the information, but reiterated that it was obtained illegally. She suggested that Mr Maynier be removed from the Committee.

Mr Groenewald asked whether it was correct that Ms Ndabeni was asking that Mr Maynier be removed from the Committee by the Speaker. It was inappropriate to suggest the removal of a member as a matter of course. He would not support the suggestion. The Committee should first consider the legal opinion that was to be obtained. There were several rights, like freedom of speech, that must be respected. He understood that there were instances where certain facts should not be disclosed, if these concerned national security, but felt the present suggestion to be premature. He proposed that the real facts be first considered. There needed to be a balance. Thereafter a decision could be taken.

The Chairperson said that Ms Ndabeni was calling for the withdrawal of Mr Maynier as a Member of the Committee by the Speaker. Mr Booi said he would seek guidance from the Speaker on what to do next.

Mr M Ellis, Deputy Chief Whip of the DA, stated that there would always be political leaks. This was the nature of politics and it happened all over the world. He said that he welcomed legal advice on the matter. Mr Ellis, however, felt that it was not the source of the information that was important, but rather the truth about the information that had been revealed. This issue was of critical importance and the NCACC should be called before the Committee.

Mr Booi said that it would be best for the Minister to be the main presenter when such a meeting was called. Although a meeting had been scheduled for 19 August 2009 the Minister was unavailable on that day. A suitable date would be found. The Chairperson said that he would discuss the matter of obtaining a legal opinion with the Speaker, whilst at the same time seeking further guidance on the issues.

The Chairperson referred to Section 198(d) of the Constitution, which stated that national security was subject to the authority of Parliament and the national Executive. He noted that members could give opinions but had to keep them within the precincts of the law.

The meeting was adjourned.

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