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18 September 2011 | Angeline Albert
Buyers at South Africa’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) will be investigated following Jacob Zuma’s decision to officially probe allegations of corruption in arms contracts.
The president announced this week he will establish a commission of inquiry, designed to uncover any failings in procurement by public purchasers at the MoD, which is responsible for defence strategy and the procurement to support it.
The inquiry will focus on the behaviour of purchasers in numerous contracts for military goods and services - including warships, fighter planes and navigation systems, among other items - that are worth more than R30 billion (US$4 billion) in total. The deals, called Strategic Defence Procurement Packages, were awarded in 1999 to a multitude of suppliers from a variety of countries. A spokesman for the president would not be drawn on the specific nature of the alleged impropriety involved.
A legal challenge to force the South African president to hold an inquiry or explain the reasons not to has been proceeding through the courts since 2009, and a hearing for a decision had been scheduled for 17 November. Although this is still set to go ahead, the office of the president has written to the court asking it to be cancelled following the decision to set up the commission.
A statement on the presidency’s official website said: “President Zuma assumed office when the matter was already pending in the courts of law. He had previously taken a view that since the matter was the subject of litigation in a court of law, he should allow the legal process to take its course.
“However, he has since taken into account the various developments around this matter and also the fact that closure on this subject will be in the public interest. The president will soon announce the terms of reference and the composition of the commission including the time frames.”
Zuma has asked Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe, to help set up the commission. The MoD will respond to the inquiry when it is underway.