The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NACC) briefed the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on its fourth quarter report and 2021/22 annual report, and on litigation against it by Open Secrets and Amnesty International
The NACC told the Committee that it had received a clean audit report for the eighth consecutive year. The implementation of a new digital permit system was continuing apace. User acceptance testing had been done successfully. The new system was currently running in parallel to the old system.
The NACC stated that its framework was grounded in domestic law, which was in harmony with international treaties and conventions. It said the figures presented in the reports showed that the defence industry in South Africa was growing.
The Committee heard that there were two parts to the litigation regarding Yemen by Open Secrets and Lawyers for Human Rights. The first involved a default judgement against the NACC because of a late response to summonses served on the NACC. The summonses had been served at short notice the day before a public holiday and problems within the Defence Department's legal system had resulted in a plea not being lodged. The second part involved a review of permits. Case management under the auspices of the High Court had been granted the judge had been appointed.
Members suggested that the default judgement had had an impact on arms exports to the UAE, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to the detriment of the local defence industry. They were assured that it had not and that delays in the approval of certain categories of exports were due to the NACC first wanting assurance that plans were in place to mitigate the risk of diversion of the exports.
National Conventional Arms Control Committee briefing
The Chairperson thanked the Mister in the Presidency, Mr Mondli Gungubele, for finding the time to participate in the meeting. The Minister asked Adv Ezra Jele, Secretariat Head, National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), to lead the presentation.
Adv Jele said reporting to Parliament by the NCCA was prescribed by the NCACC Act. Appearing before the Joint Standing Committee was by invitation in terms of the Committee’s oversight role. The NCACC would always respond to an invitation by the Committee. It could only brief the Committee on reports tabled in Parliament.
He reported that the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) had given the NCACC a clean bill of health. This was the eighth one under the current leadership.
The information technology (IT) project was continuing apace. Both old and new systems were live, but no “go live” had been announced yet. User acceptance testing had been done successfully. Currently, registration was done on the new system in parallel with the old system. Training and archiving would take place simultaneously before switching off the old system. Further costs were anticipated. The equipment bought in 2015 was now outdated.
Concerning litigation against the NCACC by Open Secrets and Lawyers for Human Rights on Yemen, there were two parts to the matter. The first involved a joinder application and the second a review of permits. There had been a default judgement due to non-defence of the matter in Part 1 and this remained unchanged. Part 2 was still pending. Case management under the auspices of the High Court had been granted and the judge had been appointed.
Adv Jele told the Committee that the NCACC Framework was grounded in domestic law, which was in harmony with treaties and conventions. The Cabinet committee applied itself effectively within the confines of prescribed laws, and it supported compliance with international commitments on arms control. The secretariat was supported to attend ams control meetings wherever these meetings took place.
The defence industry in South Africa was growing as evidenced by the figures presented.
(See graphs and tables in the presentation.)
Mr S Marais (DA) wanted to know why the default judgement had been granted when the NACC had followed legal processes and routes. Why did that slip through the cracks and who was responsible? Now the consequences were being seen? He asked what effect the resultant lack of exports to the UAE, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia had had on the local arms industry in the past year. Was the issuing of export permits considered?
Adv Jele said summonses were served on the NACC on15 June, the day before the youth day holiday, The set down notice was for two days later. This could have been a tactic to stifle their response. Legal briefings resided within the Department of Defence. There was a problem in the legal system in lodging a plea in time and a default judgement was granted. Processes were underway to find out what had happened and who was accountable.
The Chairperson reminded him of Mr Marais’ question about the effect of the judgement on arms exports. Adv Jele said there had been none. What had happened was that the Arms Control Committee had held back consideration of category A and B permit applications until they had been satisfied that plans were in place to mitigate the risk of diversion. Once they were satisfied, approvals were granted.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) asked what progress was being made with the digital permit platform. He asked where there were concerns from the defence industry about permits that needed to be addressed and whether there were any blockages affecting the industry, which was under great strain. He noted that the NACC report referred to 57 permits for imports from 19 countries, but the detailed breakdown showed only one import, from Sweden. In the light of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, were there regular assessments about which countries might be involved in human rights abuses and reviews of South Africa’s position on countries it wanted to do business with?
The Minister said the NACC remained alert. There were monthly reviews.
Adv Jele said the new IT system had gone live, but it was still at a diagnostic stage. What was loaded was also reflected in the old system so it could not be lost. On the arms industry, he said the NCACC had held discussions with selected players about pressure points. He requested that he respond in writing on the detailed breakdown on exports and imports.
Ms T Legwase (ANC) asked when the NACC electronic permit system would be finalised. Had the defence industry embraced the new electronic permit system? Were any challenges foreseen?
Adv Jele said contracting permits were essentially indicative of authorisation whereas exports were actual. They had been authorised and exported. Due diligence was done to ensure the goods left the country for their destination, and all the necessary paperwork was done.
The Chairperson reassured the Committee that these processes were implemented to ensure the country stayed within the law in what it is doing.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.