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PUBLIC ACCOUNTS STANDING COMMITTEE (SCOPA)
13 April 2005
LETTER FROM MR TRENT ABOUT ARMS DEAL; PROGRESS REPORTS; COMMITTEE PROGRAMME
Documents handed out:
Committee Clerk’s Minutes: 6 April 2005
Letter from Democratic Alliance on Arms Deal
The Committee adopted minutes from the previous meeting, looked through the weekly programme and discussed the letter that Mr Trent had sent to the Chairperson regarding the arms deal. He had suggested that the issue be transferred to SCOPA from the Ad Hoc Committee and that Members review new evidence. The Members discussed whether it was the responsibility of SCOPA to look into the issue and how they could go about determining what evidence to review.
The Chairperson went through the apologies by Members; the Committee adopted the agenda, adopted Minutes No. 12 from 6 April 2005 and dealt with issues arising from those minutes. They then discussed the work programme, the Committee budget and the letter received from Mr Trent.
Mr E Trent (DA) said that he did not see the meeting as the best opportunity to go into a debate on the arms deal. There had been new developments and it had been given attention in the media, so it was a continuing problem. The Ad Hoc Committee also felt that it was a matter to be taken seriously. Ms Hogan had outlined in a letter why the matter should be referred to SCOPA rather than the Ad Hoc Committee. Mr Trent had a document that set out what had happened recently and gave a few examples of new pieces of evidence that had recently surfaced that suggested that changes had been made to the arms deal report and that a number of critical pieces of evidence outlining irregularities in the acquisition process had been removed. This evidence included draft copies of the JIT report with hand-written notes requesting additions and omissions, the full transcripts of interviews with the former Secretary of Defense, Mr Steyn and Mr Esterhuyse who corroborated Mr Steyn’s view about the BAE/Saab deal and the set of disputed minutes relating to that matter.
The other matter of concern was that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) component of the JIT (Joint Investigating Team) had not finished its work. It had said that certain matters had to continue to be investigated, and made reference to certain officials that may have acted improperly, but nothing had been done about these issues. The process had not been completed and there were people that could be called by SCOPA to give evidence that could affect SCOPAs view of what had happened. The Office of the Auditor-General was critically important to democracy and Mr Trent did not like the notion that there might be something wrong with it. It was critical that the Office of the Auditor-General be beyond any suspicion and it was incumbent on the Committee to discuss this in more depth.
Mr T Mofokeng (ANC) said that initially the issue of the arms deal had been a SCOPA issue, but then it ended up in the Ad Hoc Committee. He asked why it "left" SCOPA and why it had then come back to SCOPA.
The Chairperson said that when they had last dealt with the matter in 2003, SCOPA had taken a decision to refer all future arms deal matters to the Director of the NPA and that had been the last time it was officially discussed in SCOPA.
Mr Trent said that it would be more appropriate for the Ad Hoc Committee to deal with the matter because that was the Committee that dealt with the Auditor-General’s affairs. The opinion of Parliament’s legal advisor, however, was that SCOPA would be more appropriate because the Ad Hoc Committee was temporary and it would take some time to establish the new Committee on the Public Audit Bill. If the Ad Hoc Committee dissolved halfway through a process, it would be problematic. Ms Hogan wrote to the Speaker asking when the new Committee would be appointed to decide if they should wait, but there had been no response. That was why Mr Trent had written the letter to the Chair of SCOPA requesting that SCOPA deal with the matter. It had never been referred to the Ad Hoc Committee originally, but had been a request from himself as a Member of that Committee that the matter be discussed there.
Dr G Woods (IFP) said that there were other issues preceding what Mr Trent had said. The allegations made in the press about the Auditor-General (AG) changing the arms deal report because of possible influence from members of Cabinet raised the question of whether the AG had been honorable in his accountability to Parliament. The issue of his duties and his constitutional responsibilities were the jurisdiction of an oversight committee of Parliament, which the Ad Hoc Committee was standing in for until the permanent one was established. If the report had been changed, then it was SCOPAs’ business to ask whether they had been fully informed on the arms deal, which was why both committees were involved.
Mr V Smith (ANC) said that if Mr Trent had brought the issue to SCOPA because he thought the establishment of the permanent committee would take too long, that was problematic. It bothered Mr Smith that Mr Trent was the one introducing it everywhere, but he understood what Dr Woods was saying about the honorability of the Auditor-General and whether the report had been changed. He accepted that and said that they would have to wait for the permanent committee to take care of the first issue. They would then have to ask that the part of the report that had been changed be presented to SCOPA because they could not move on the basis of allegations in newspapers.
These allegations should be brought before SCOPA to decide whether it merited attention or if it should be dealt with according to the decision that they had taken in 2003 to refer it to the relevant agency. He opposed it coming to SCOPA purely because the Ad Hoc Committee was in limbo. They had to agree on what evidence constituted a question of the Auditor-General’s integrity, which would be difficult. In Parliament, Mr Trent had said that he had evidence, and it would be useful for him to bring that evidence as long as it was something other than the Mail and Guardian’s or Business Day’s report. The ANC would not put the issue on the agenda on the basis of newspaper reports, but would not stand in the way of proper evidence. Until such evidence was brought to SCOPA, the matter was closed.
Dr Woods said that the evidence was available and that it was a matter of Members taking time to look at it. The Committee had to decide if it was going to look at it or not, but did not need to make any other decisions. If the evidence was there, they should look at it and if they felt that the report was watered down, they needed to discuss what action they would take. He suggested that they take a majority decision on whether SCOPA would look into it.
Mr B Pule (UCDP) said that Mr Trent had mentioned new evidence, but Dr Woods had referred to existing evidence, and he asked if they were referring to the same evidence.
Dr Woods said that the evidence had come from a comparative exercise. The JTI had looked at a report in November 2001, and through the courts, someone had managed to get the original drafts of the AG’s report that had been given to members of Cabinet. It was possible to look at the original and the final report that came out later and see the differences.
Mr Smith said that they had to be clear about what evidence they would look at. His understanding was that the JIT had dealt with a lot of paper throughout the process. Mr Trent had mentioned evidence involving SANCO, but Dr Woods had not. It must be clear what evidence was being spoken about, so he supported Dr Woods in saying that they should look at evidence that pointed to the Auditor-General being dishonorable. That was the evidence they should look at and question him about. There were things that may have changed the final report from the draft, but people could be selective about the evidence they were looking at in that regard. They could not rely on the newspapers, but if evidence were put in front of them to examine, they would not be opposed to doing that and should look at the comparative study Dr Woods was talking about. If someone could identify the evidence and they could determine that it had not already been processed anywhere else, SCOPA should look at it.
Mr Trent said that he used the SANCO evidence as an example of the fact that the issue would not go away because the press would keep looking into it. What was available as concrete evidence was the full copy of the draft report that they could compare with the final report. It should be tested against other evidence, such as statements from General Steyn and Mr Esterhuyse that did not come across in the final JIT report. Mr Trent had discussed these matters with the Auditor-General, and studies were being done by other groups that raised similar questions. He could provide all of that evidence if SCOPA believed that it should be discussed and they had the power to call people to explain the allegations they were making.
The Chairperson said that there was a mix of issues, because some of the issues Mr Smith had raised were Rule 66 issues that they could not look at. If it had an impact on the Auditor-General, that was for the House to decide, not SCOPA.
Mr G Koornhof (ANC) said that it was not correct for a second committee to set a new process in motion while the issue was already being given attention by the Ad Hoc Committee. This was a procedural issue and it would be wrong to run two separate processes about the same issue, so it was more complicated than SCOPA taking a decision on whether to look at evidence or not. In the past, SCOPA had already spent hours going through the reports of the contractors and sub-contractors and discussing the JIT report. Any type of report, interview or investigation produced drafts that would be different from the final copy. He was uncomfortable with the idea that they might look at a specific point of view on some evidence selected, at the expense of other types of evidence and asked where they would draw the line to judge that. They must be careful in how they addressed the principle of taking the investigation forward. Mr Trent had argued that he had seen evidence of certain individuals making statements to the investigative team. That team had many others who had also made statements that might contradict each other. He did not want it to be an unbalanced or selective process. Mr Trent had already set a process in motion in the Ad Hoc Committee, and could not set a second process in motion while that was being dealt with.
Mr Trent said that the Ad Hoc Committee had decided that it could not deal with the matter, and that the new committee was not being established specifically to deal with the arms deal, but would be established anyway. If that committee was established, he conceded that it was a better place to discuss the arms deal, but the Ad Hoc Committee had said to do what he liked, and he thought that bringing it to SCOPA was the next step. It was necessary to avoid selective evidence, because it was difficult to know if reports had been objective, so they would have to look at the evidence that was presented as well as opposing evidence.
Mr Smith said that this might get them into more trouble, because they would have to go out and ask for opposing views. He supported what Dr Koornhof was saying because the media could have been selective. They did not have the time to search for counter-views like the media did, and it could become a problem of people just contradicting each other. The ANC’s stance was that someone must bring that information to SCOPA, and with that evidence, they could approach the AG. If they did the work the JIT had already done, they would be undermining the JIT and the agencies that had carried out that investigation. If the Scorpions, the Public Protector or another body had already processed information, SCOPA should not because they had already adopted the JIT report in 2002. The DA could play politics, but the ANC would not. The ANC’s final position was that new evidence must be brought before the Committee, where they would assess it and decide if it merited further investigation.
Mr Pule said that they needed a decision in principle in SCOPA to determine who should handle the question of the arms deal. He commented that the Secretary of Parliament had a legal opinion, but did not know if that was because the Ad Hoc Committee was not a permanent committee. They should be very clear about who was to handle the matter.
The Chairperson said that they were mixing issues and had to determine whose responsibility the arms deal was. They should get the opinion of Mr Undig?(I'm not sure who this is) [I THINK THIS PROBABLY REFERS TO KASPER HAHNDIEK??]because he was not sure if they could look at some of the issues in light of Rule 66.
Mr Trent said that he had never mentioned Rule 66. There were serious allegations and he was not playing politics. SCOPA could find out who had given evidence and could ask for new evidence, so they did not have to go through many documents.
Dr Koornhof said that the process had been concluded in Parliament. If SCOPA wanted to go back to it, they would be selecting certain evidence to review and would not achieve anything by looking at contradictory viewpoints. Parliament had made a decision, and he was opposed to retrospectively reopening the issue to prove a point that had not been accommodated in the majority decision.
Mr Smith said that one of the issues he spoke about was Mr Undigs? legal opinion. SCOPA needed to decide whose decision would be taken as the final authority. Saying that Mr Steyn’s interview had not been reported correctly was the same as saying that SCOPA did not have faith in those that had interviewed him. This meant they were questioning the AG, the NPA and the Public Protector. SCOPA should agree that if those people had been through that process, SCOPA should not put it on the table. If there was new evidence that had not been processed in 2001, they would look at that.
Mr Mofokeng said that Dr Woods kept bailing Mr Trent out. He said that Mr Trent was raising the issue in different venues because as he had said, it was within his rights to follow any course of action that he deemed appropriate.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the rest of the meeting could not be monitored.
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