South African Non-Proliferation Council Annual Report

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Trade and Industry

03 June 2008
Chairperson: Mr B A D Martin (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry reported to the Committee on the South African Non-Proliferation Council for the first time. Their presentation covered the establishment and activities of the Council since its inception. Members asked about the connection between the Council and the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC). They looked at the budget and the vacancies in the Council. The lack of financial statements in the Annual Report also raised discussion.

Meeting report

The Chair welcomed members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence to the meeting. He explained that they would be attending part of the meeting as the report was of interest to them as well.

Ms X Mlumbi-Peter, Chief Director: Africa Multilateral in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), explained that the presentation covered the Annual Report of the South African Council for Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It also described the background to the Council and the features covered in the report.

Mr D J van Beek, Director: Non-Proliferation: Department of Trade and Industry, addressed the Committee as in the Powerpoint presentation attached. He explained that the Non-Proliferation Council (NPC) was appointed in 1994 after the Act was passed in 1993. The Minister of Trade and Industry had appointed the Council. The Control Committee made recommendations to the Council regarding exports and imports. The Council was looking more at the technical dimensions of transfers. The majority of the permits given by the Council were straightforward.

Discussion
Mr Fihla (ANC) wanted to know how effective the control was that was issued by the NPC. There were countries which already had weapons of mass destruction. He was concerned that these were not being controlled.

Mr van Beek said that there were two dimensions to effectiveness. It was important to realise that the NPC could not do its task without intelligence. It also depended on communication with the industry. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allowed some countries to have nuclear weapons. These were referred to as nuclear weapon states. Pakistan, for example, was not part of the treaty and therefore had weapons. North Korea, on the other hand, had been part of the treaty but had withdrawn. The effectiveness of control was therefore difficult.

Mr F Bhengu (ANC) remarked that it was the first time that the NPC was reporting to Parliament yet it was their thirteenth annual report. This had to be addressed. He referred to the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) and inquired what its function was and how it related to the NPC. He expected them to work together. There also seemed to be overlaps with the Department of Minerals and Energy. He expressed his concern that the annual report did not cover any financial aspects at all. A budget for the NPC was also not present.

Mr van Beek explained that the NCACC operated more on a political level and the NPC on a technical level. There was a close co-operation between them and that had cross representation as well. The financial aspects were not included in past reports either. This was because the DTI had full responsibility for the NPC. 

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) referred to the vacancies on the NPC and asked how long these had been unfilled and what was being done about it. He pointed out that the Portfolio Committee on Defence had passed a bill on weapons of mass destruction and wanted to know whether the NPC had given any input on it. He pointed out that some of the weapons that had been found in Iraq had appeared to have their origins in South Africa and he asked for comment on this.

Mr van Beek said that the vacancies on the NPC had been there for more than a year. The Department of Defence had been asked to nominate someone to represent them but they had had no response yet. The NPC was however at the end of a cycle at present so it would be calling for new nominations soon. He added that the South African weapons that had been found in Iraq had not been weapons of mass destruction.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) referred to the NPC's representation on different international bodies that had drawn up treaties. He wanted to know whether the NPC had had any input in these conventions or treaties. He also expressed concern that the annual report contained no financial statements and asked if the NPC had been audited. He asked if the NPC had ever met with the NCACC.

Mr van Beek replied that the NPC had been audited as part of the DTI. There were no separate financial statements. Past financial statements would be found in the DTI's books. The secretariat of the NPC had  participated in the negotiation of new treaties. There was continual discussion around these issues and decisions were made based on consensus. The NPC met with the NCACC normally every six weeks.

The Chair reiterated that other government agencies submitted financial reports.

Mr van Beek stated that the NPC was part of the DTI and was not autonomous.

Mr Ntuli (ANC) emphasised that in future it was important that financial statements be included in the report.

The Chair said that when Mr X Carrim of the DTI addressed the Committee, he would be asked to cover this.

Mr Bhengu stressed that it was still important that financial statements should be included the next time the NPC reported.

Mr L Diale (ANC) wanted to know when the NPC was formed.

Mr van Beek explained that the NPC had been formed in 1994 for a three-year period. They had been re-appointed for another three years. Another new Council was then appointed for three years. The Council was now at the end of a new cycle and the Council would be re-appointed.

Mr Ntuli (ANC) asked how the NPC had managed to work without intelligence. He repeated his question concerning the Council's input on the Bill that the Portfolio Committee on Defence had passed.

Mr van Beek replied that the NPC had been part of the working group that was involved in the drafting of the Conventional Arms Control Bill.

Mr Diale asked what the relationship was between the NCACC and the NPC.

Mr van Beek said that they had always been part of the NCACC and had always been consulted. He explained that the NCACC was a political body that was a sub committee of Cabinet. The NPC dealt with the risk of proliferation. There was cross representation as they handled the same kind of matters and it was important they took the same stance. If there was a risk of proliferation, it was pointed out to the NCACC.

Mr L Labuschagne (DA) remarked that the report before the Committee was almost a year old. He hoped that in future the Committee would get the report sooner. He asked if all the permits given by the NPC were referred to the NCACC. He also wanted to know from where the inspectors, that the NPC used, came.

Mr van Beek said that the NPC was guided by various acts and the NCACC by other acts. If something had political impact, it was referred to the NCACC. Inspectors were not appointed permanently but rather in response to a need. They were never appointed for more than three months at a time. They were vetted according to government rules.

Mr D Dlali (ANC) asked if the statistics regarding the countries to which they exported and from which they imported, were available. He asked how long the vice-chair position at the Council had been vacant and whether the consultants used, were on a retainer basis.

Mr van Beek replied that it was not possible to provide the members with the export/import information for different countries. The sensitive ones however were in the NCACC report. It was difficult since many permits may be given for one delivery. At present three consultants were being used. One was a previous employee that had retired. One was used to review certain actions. The third consultant was used to give advice on issues that involved nuclear physics. He was unable say why the vice chairperson position had still not been filled. The Minister would take the final decision regarding this.

Ms F Mohamed (ANC) referred to the withdrawn permits mentioned in the presentation, and asked what the reason for the withdrawal was. She also asked if the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) informed the NPC of any misconduct. She wanted to know from where the new vice chairperson would come and whether the inspectors met international standards. She asked why South Africa was not a member of the Australia group.

Mr van Beek replied that he did not have the details of the withdrawn permits with him. In some cases however it was because there was duplication of applicants or because it was not needed anymore. Sometimes negotiations were held with the applicants to discuss the merits of the permit. After the negotiations, it was then withdrawn. It was difficult to say if the inspectors were of international standards. They had to use those people that were available. The Australia group was a very exclusive group. Trade took place within this group and they denied exports to developing countries. There was a negative perception of the group within the Non Aligned Movement. For political reasons, there was therefore no attempt to join the group.

Mr S Rasmeni (ANC) asked whether the NPC also had a role to play concerning the proliferation of weapons within South Africa. He wanted to know if all members that were registered, and consultants, were vetted and what kind of support structure the NPC had. He asked for the rationale for putting the NPC under the DTI and why the chairperson of the NPC was from the Department of Foreign Affairs and not the DTI. He also expressed concern about the vacancies in the NPC.

Mr van Beek replied that there was no vetting process when registration of organisations was done. Registration was done on request. It was part of an education process. The NPC had no control over the proliferation of small weapons inside the country. The NPC however did control the production of teargas within the country as this fell within chemical weapons. All personnel and consultants were vetted up to secret level. With the Council however it was more difficult and a normal vetting process was not done. These were appointed by the Minister in a formal process. The placing of the NPC under the DTI had a long history. Initially, the Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and the DTI was considered. Because of the proliferation history of South Africa, the Department of Defence was ruled out. There were different pros and cons which eventually placed it within DTI. The Council reported directly to the Minister, and not through the Director General. The rest of the DTI was not involved in the day to day running of the NPC. He pointed out that the chairperson of the NPC had been appointed to the position before he had been made an ambassador by the Department of Foreign Affairs. There was also no connection between his two positions. The NPC had the secretariat within the DTI as its support structure.

Ms Mlumbi-Peter added the NPC had been placed in the DTI since it dealt with the trade of controlled goods. The Department of Defence (DoD) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had a role in the Council.

Mr J Maake (ANC) said that even though the NPC's budget was not in the report, he still wanted to know what was done with the budget. He also expressed concern that members of the board could resign even though they had been nominated by a department.

Mr van Beek said that the NPC's budget was in the region of R8 million per annum. The money was spent in four major areas. The Council paid membership fees to certain international bodies such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). These fees were in the region of R2 million. Support for the analytical facility was also in the region of R2 million. Salaries were budgeted at R2 million. Its operational budget was also R2 million of which around 50% was used for travel. He explained further that the member of the NPC that had resigned had actually resigned from the DoD and was therefore automatically resigned from the Council.

Mr S Njikelane (ANC) expressed concern that the more senior members of the Council were not present as the matters discussed were serious. He asked what products the Council actually handled. He also wanted to know if the Department of Health played any role in the Council since there dangerous chemicals were handled. He expressed concern that the period covered in the annual report was not synchronised with the financial year of government departments and wanted to know what other activities and outreach programs the Council did.

Mr van Beek replied that the Chairperson of the Council had been invited to do the presentation but that he was in Vienna at the Board of Governors meeting of the International Atomic Agency. He explained that the Council handled products such as navigation technology, composite structures, isotope separation, aircraft airframe construction, and high strength material. These were typical emerging technologies. The Department of Health was more concerned with the import of pathogens whereas the Council was concerned with the export of the pathogens. The DoH was invited to the Biological Weapons Working Committee (BWWC) but he could not say if they were active. The Council was not involved in the control of hazardous substances. Referring to the period of reporting, he said that it was linked to the first appointment of the Council. The Minister, however, had pointed out the fact that it was not synchronised with the financial year. The Council was using its website as a means of outreach. It had very positive feedback from this from industry.

Mr Maake (ANC) asked to whom the Council reported if it did not do so through the Director General.

Mr van Beek said that the NPC reported directly to the Minister.

Mr Dlali (ANC) asked who the accounting officer was since the NPC did not report to the Director General. He referred to the fact that once a representative resigned from a department, that person automatically could not serve on the Council. He wanted to know why this did not apply to the representatives from the industry as well. He expressed concern about the membership fees which he thought were very high. He added that the budget figures were needed in writing. He pointed out that the Agricultural Research Council did not feature in the report and wanted to know what their role was. Regarding border control and negotiations with SARS in connection with the Act, he commented that the Act had been passed some time back and he wanted to know what had been happening in the mean time.
 
Mr van Beek said that the accounting officer was the same as the DTI's. This was how the Act was structured. They were open to suggestions should the Committee think that it should be done differently. He explained that the membership fees were a commitment that was made by Parliament. The fees were calculated according to the United Nations proportional contribution. They did however have input into the budget of the OPCW to see that the monies were not wasted. The Council was working with the Agricultural Research Council and their role was to give input on animal and plant pathogens. They also gave advice into the BWWC. This was one of the problems of the system since its inception. The control was only good if it was done well at the border. There had been many interactions with SARS, but this had been stalled because of resignations. It had now been decided that the co-operation with SARS would be on a formal basis and therefore a memorandum of agreement was being established. They had hoped it would be done earlier.

Mr Njikelane (ANC) said that in future more information should be given especially on the products handled. It would also be helpful to get input from the DFA.

The Chair said that since it was the first time that the Council was meeting with the Committee, the engagement has been very thorough. He asked the presenters for any closing remarks.

Ms Mlumbi-Peter thanked the Committee for the invitation and said that they had taken note of the questions and hoped that there would be more in depth engagement in the future. They would try to address the gaps mentioned especially those about the financial statements.

The meeting was adjourned.

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