Meeting SummaryThe National Conventional Arms Control Committee gave its Annual Report briefing, the first since August 2005. It also provided an introductory briefing on its mandate and legislative framework, composition, structure, functions, reporting obligations and challenges. This included information about the kinds of permits that it issued, relations with other agencies and how weapons were classified. The 2008 Annual Report looked at how many permits were issued and to which countries South Africa exported arms.
Members noted that there were new Ministers and members of the NCACC. Consequently, most of what the Democratic Alliance had alleged in media reports had not happened on their watch. In answer to questions, it was established that the Scrutiny Committee was a sub-committee of the NCACC. The Committee discussed whether any permits were withdrawn under the period of review. The Committee took note that the handling of confidential information and the realignment of the defence industry business through cross-Atlantic mergers and acquisitions were challenges.
The Committee also noted the NCACC’s mandate was to regulate both the Foreign Military Assistance Act and the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities Act although the latter was only promulgated in 2009. They pointed out that the presentation did not cover the NCACC’s budget or expenditure. Members also wondered how the NCACC determined that a country was guilty or not of human rights violations. On the requirements that had to be fulfilled by the end-user, the Committee asked if the NCACC sent people out to ensure that the end-user was using weapons accordingly. The Committee was interested in how many permits were refused in the period under review and which countries. NCACC noted that it did not have information on hand to answer the question on refused permits; however, permits had been refused.
The Democratic Alliance said that there were ten cases of arms deals that they wanted to discuss in detail; however, due to time constraints, they raised only that of Syria and Zimbabwe. In response, the NCACC Chairperson stated that the 20 August invitation from the Committee, had asked him to deal with their 2008 Annual Report and to have an introductory meeting. He did not think it was the appropriate time to discuss every transaction that the NCACC had or had not authorised. If Members wanted additional information, they had to inform the Chairperson so that the NCACC could come to the meeting prepared.
The Democratic Alliance commented that it was disappointed that the Minister would not respond to the questions. It was a Member of Parliament’s job to hold the executive accountable for its transactions. They proposed that the Committee meet with the NCACC as soon as possible to discuss all the deals made between 2005 and 2009, specifically deals with Syria, Zimbabwe, Iran, Libya, Venezuela, Somalia, Sudan, Burma and North Korea.
Justice and Constitutional Development Minister, Jeff Radebe, also Chairperson of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), stated that an introductory briefing was being given at the request of the Committee on the 20 August 2009.
He discussed the NCACC legislative framework and mandate, explaining that the NCACC was established in terms of the National Conventional Arms Control (NCAC) Act. The NCACC was a Cabinet Committee appointed by the President. It comprised of eight Cabinet Ministers and three Deputy Ministers. By law, the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson positions could not be held by Ministers who had line function interests in the conventional arms business. The Directorate Conventional Arms Control (DCAC), the Inspectorate and sub-committees were established under the NCACC to help the entity deliver on its mandate. The NCACC was also supported by various government departments and agencies.
The NCACC met on a monthly basis to consider arms transfer applications lodged by the defence industry. They looked at a range of factors provided for in Section 15 of the NCAC Act when considering the applications. Permit applications were either approved or denied. The NCACC reserved the right to withdraw issued permits on grounds it deemed appropriate. The Secretariat executed the NCACC’s decisions. The kinds of permits that could be issued were registration permits that would recognise a company as a manufacturer or trader, marketing permits, contracting permits, export permits, import permits, and transit/conveyance permits.
Weapons were placed into six categories. Category A weapons comprised sensitive major implements of war such as fighter aircrafts and submarines. Category B weapons were all types of handheld and portable assault weapons such as rifles and machine guns. Category C comprised of support equipment employed in the support of combat operations such as radio transceivers and radars. Category D comprised of purposely designed de-mining, mine clearing and detection equipment. Category E contained armaments and related products that were not allowed to be sold, while Category F comprised of purposely built armaments manufacturing equipment, plants, facilities and test ranges.
The NCACC reported to the Cabinet, Parliament and the United Nations (UN). The NCACC experienced challenges such as the unexpected exponential growth of the defence industry that impacted on the administrative capacity, the handling of confidential and risky information and the realignment of the defence industry business through cross-Atlantic mergers and acquisitions. The NCACC dealt with the challenges by reviewing its administrative support with a view to increase its capacity and by drafting regulations to the NCAC Amendment Act to deal with matters such as mergers and acquisitions, promoting access to information with due regard to sensitivities and by facilitating trade while promoting accountability.
2008 Annual Report briefing
Minister Radebe stated that the period under review saw the promulgation of the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities Act in November 2007 and the NCAC Amendment Act passed by Parliament in 2008 and signed by the President in April 2009. The regulations were currently being drafted for the
NCAC Amendment Act and Regulations to implement the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities Act were pending promulgation at the Presidency. In 2008, the NCACC had approved 54 marketing permits, 370 contracting permits, 2965 export permits and 1639 import permits. The total value of the contracting permits issued amounted to R19.5 billion, export permits amounted to R5.8 billion and import permits amounted to R6.3 billion.
Countries that received major exports from South Africa included Algeria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Malaysia, Peoples Republic of China (PRC), Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Total exports for 2008 amounted to R5.8 billion.
Mr D Maynier (DA) stated that the NCACC making the presentation in Parliament was a step in the right direction. Minister Radebe was a new Minister and member of the NCACC and most of what Mr Maynier had alleged did not happen on Minister Radebe’s watch. The Minister had taken a step in the right direction by refusing to authorise a deal to Iran involving thousands of weaponry for aviators. He also appreciated that Mr Radebe had tabled the NCACC 2008 Annual Report and made it available to the public. The Annual Reports were tabled before Parliament for the past three years but they had been ‘classified’ in contravention of the NCAC Act and were not made public.
Mr Maynier asked if Minister Radebe could confirm that the Scrutiny Committee was a sub-committee of the NCACC and that, in terms of the Act, it always met with one or more Ministers present.
Minister Radebe answered that the Scrutiny Committee was a sub-committee of the NCACC. It comprised of relevant government departments such as the Department of Defence and Military Veterans, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Secret Service. Since this NCACC committee had came into office, none of the Ministers had been part of meetings that were held. The Committee provided Ministers with detailed reports of meetings and departments’ provided them with their view on what decision the NCACC should take.
Mr Maynier said that the NCACC indicated that there were occasions when they were allowed to withdraw permits. He asked if any permits were withdrawn under the period of review. There were different kinds of permits. He asked the NCACC to clarify what level of authorisation was required in respect of each permit.
Minister Radebe stated that the first kind of permit was the registration permit to ensure that companies were registered with the NCACC. The second permit was the marketing permit, which was issued to companies based on the applicable guidelines. If a marketing permit was issued, a company could not just conclude a deal with other countries. They would have to apply for a contracting permit.
Minister of Police, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, also a member of the NCACC, added that the duty of contracting permits and authorisation rested with the NCACC.
Permits were issued due to certain rules being adhered to and because there were suitable conditions within the applicable countries. As the delivery period of certain equipment neared, there could be a change in circumstances such as war and sudden instability. The NCACC reserved the right to withdraw permits given recent negative developments in the country.
Mr Maynier noted that the NCACC had mentioned that double controls were used regarding certain types of weapon systems and that the Council for Non-Proliferation (NPC) was sometimes brought in. He asked if there were instances of this in the period under review.
Minister Radebe replied that there was a close working relationship between the NCACC and the Department of Police. If a company wanted to export arms above a certain threshold, each and every transaction had to be made through the NCACC to scrutinise and approve or deny.
Mr Maynier noted that Minister Radebe stated that an increase in business resulted in the NCACC and the Secretariat having capacity constraints. The data, in terms of export and contracting terms over 2005-2008, showed that the number of contract permit applications, the number of contract permits issued, the number of export permit applications and the number of export permit applications issued was quite stable even though the deal values increased quite significantly. The data supported an alternative proposition that the number of applications being considered was fairly stable although the average value per deal seemed to be increasing fairly substantially.
Minister Radebe replied that he assumed that the previous Portfolio Committee on Defence and the previous NCACC had assessed the NCAC Act and felt that they needed to amend it so the NCACC could increase its administrative capacity.
Mr L Tolo (COPE) noted that the handling of confidential information and the realignment of the defence industry business through cross-Atlantic mergers and acquisitions were challenges. He asked the NCACC to expand on this.
Minister Radebe answered that there were confidentiality clauses in some of the contracts amongst the companies. The NCACC looked at these clauses and determined whether it would be able to abide by the confidentiality clauses. In the past, the NCACC had accepted some confidentiality clauses.
In the past there was the situation where companies were manufacturing equipment from beginning to end. This had changed. The defence industry was now in the format of a value chain where companies provided for different equipment at different points in time. Given the change of circumstances, there was a requirement for the ability to address certain matters such as when a company came into a value chain arrangement with other companies in other countries. South Africa had to be able to go in to arrangements with arms control authorities in other countries to ensure that everything that happened within the value chain arrangement was indeed with
in the provisions of either South African law or the other countries’ laws. An amendment to the NCAC Act would make a provision for the NCACC to comprehend and deal with matters of mergers and acquisitions.
Ms A Dlodlo (ANC) stated that the NCACC’s mandate said that it had to regulate the Foreign Military Assistance Act as well as the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities Act. The presentations did not seem to cover both and it did not cover the NCACC’s budget or expenditure. There were a few South African companies involved in mercenary activities. The NCACC had to report on this matter, focusing on how they had identified these companies and how they have curtailed their activities.
Minister Radebe stated that it was part of the NCACC’s mandate to look at mercenary activities. However, up until now the NCACC had not dealt with it yet. Perhaps the Secretariat could explain if the previous NCACC committee had dealt with the matter.
Minister of State Security, Mr Siyabonga Cwele, also a member of the NCACC, stated that the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities Act was a very important piece of legislation. It was important to note that the Act had only been promulgated this year and regulations were still being finalised.
Minister Cwele said that the budget and expenditure was done through the Department of Defence and Military Veterans.
Mr P Groenewald (FF+) noted that in order for countries to receive approval for permit applications, they could not be guilty of human rights violations. He asked how the NCACC determined that a country was guilty or not of human rights violations. There were also requirements that had to be fulfilled by the end-user. He asked if the NCACC sent people out to ensure that the end-user was using the weapons accordingly.
Minister Radebe stated that the NCACC was guided by Section 15 of the NCAC Act so if there were any concerns from the NCACC’s side and a permit was approved, they would be violating the guiding principles of the Act. The NCACC required that there be written confirmation as to whom the end-user was going to be. The South African Secret Service provided the NCACC with relevant information before a decision was made about applications.
Mr Maynier referred to temporary export permits. He asked what level of authorisation was needed for this. In terms of permits that were refused, how many permits were refused in the period under review and in respect of what countries?
Minister Radebe replied that there was not any kind of permit that could not be issued without the consent of the NCACC. Weapons could not leave the country without authorisation from the NCACC. He did not have the information on hand to answer the question on refused permits. However, there were permits that were refused. Most of the permits were denied because there were certain conditions in those countries that did not warrant the authorisation and use of certain equipment. The NCACC could come back to the Committee with details of countries that were refused permits.
Ms H Mgabadeli (ANC) stated that the NCACC did not have to answer her question today. She just wanted to know what some of the advantages and disadvantages were of having a value chain system in the defence industry.
Minister Radebe stated that Parliament would be part of the process and the value chain.
Mr L Mphahlele (PAC) noted that only states or countries were the recipients of South African arms. This was more of a trade. He wondered why the country did not trade with liberation movements who were fighting for freedom in their country.
Minister Radebe noted that Mr Mphahlele’s contribution was more of a comment than a question. They could discuss this matter outside the confines of the meeting.
Mr Maynier stated that there were ten cases of arms deals that he wanted to discuss in detail; however, he would only discuss two because of time limitations. The first case was a deal with Syria, pending authorisation with the NCACC, that would see South Africa exporting thousands of sniper rifles to the country. The second case was a deal with Zimbabwe, also pending authorisation with the NCACC, to export ammunition to that country. He asked if these permit applications had been considered and if the deals were authorised or denied.
Minister Radebe stated that the invitation letter from the Committee, dated 20 August 2009, asked the NCACC to deal with the 2008 Annual Report and to have an introductory meeting. He did not think it was the appropriate time at this meeting to discuss every transaction that the NCACC did or did not authorise. He referred Mr Maynier to the media statement that the NCACC issued on 6 August after allegations that the DA made. The statement responded to all the allegations that were made.
Mr Maynier said that he was disappointed that the Minister did not respond to his questions. He did not think that the reasons provided for not disclosing information were reasonable and justifiable as the Constitution required in an open and democratic society.
Minister Radebe stated that it was inappropriate for Mr Maynier to insinuate that the NCACC was not providing Parliament with a proper meeting. The letter of 20 August asked the NCACC to have an introductory meeting with the Committee and to discuss its 2008 Annual Report. If Members wanted any other additional information, they had to inform the Chairperson so that the NCACC could come to the meeting prepared. If the Committee wanted a debate on all the countries that were or were not going to receive arms, the NCACC would be very capable of responding to questions. However, it had to be in a proper meeting so that the NCACC would know what the agenda was going to be.
Minister Mthethwa stated that Mr Maynier had to follow the example of other Members and stick to the mandate of the meeting.
Minister Cwele stated that the NCACC was committed to being accountable to Parliament. If the NCACC had to account for each and every transaction, it would be very difficult.
Ms Dlodlo suggested that the Chairperson not open the meeting to these kinds of issues, as the Committee would then have to debate the morality of the deals. She did not want the Committee to degenerate in to a contest of ideology.
Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) agreed with Ms Dlodlo. The Committee was dealing with sensitive matters and the lives of many people in those countries. He asked for more clarity on the realignment of countries. This did not have to be answered today.
The Chairperson reiterated that Members agreed they would not ask questions for which the NCACC was not prepared. He wanted Members to stick to the agenda.
Mr Maynier stated that it was a Member of Parliament’s job to hold the executive accountable for its transactions. His view was that Members were not doing this. He proposed that the Committee meet with the NCACC as soon as possible to discuss all the deals made between 2005 and 2009. He specifically wanted to discuss deals with Syria, Zimbabwe, Iran, Libya, Venezuela, Somalia, Sudan, Burma and North Korea.
Mr Ndlovu wondered if the Committee was done with asking the Ministers about issues relating to the presentations. He did not want the meeting to degenerate into something else.
The Chairperson commented that he had spoken to Mr Maynier about speaking to the agenda. If Members did not have any more comments and questions relating to the presentations then the meeting had to be adjourned.
Mr Groenewald commented that the matter of arms deals was a sensitive issue. He wondered if it was possible for the Minister to consider providing the Committee with a list that stated all the countries with which it was not suitable to do arms deals. In that way, Members would know the criteria applied to countries when their applications were considered.
Minister Radebe stated that the NCACC would discuss the suggestion; however, Members needed to take into account that Section 15 of the NCAC Act was that the NCACC made decisions on a case-by-case basis. The NCACC could not take a blanket approach on the matter. The Scrutiny Committee always informed the NCACC if something was wrong in certain countries.
Mr Maynier stated that he had eight more cases that he wanted to deal with. He wanted to discuss them with the Minister and the Minister was entitled to answer the questions or not. The Minister might find something in the questions that he would answer.
The Chairperson urged Mr Maynier to speak to the agenda. He was not trying to push the Member’s questions aside, as there would be a time at a later stage to deal with these matters.
The Chairperson stated that the interaction between the Committee and the NCACC did not end there, as the NCACC was always accountable to the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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