Commission into alleged corruption in South Africa defence procurement 'thoroughly flawed'

A widely-anticipated report into corruption in a South African arms procurement deal has found no evidence of corruption or fraud, a ruling greeted with storms of criticism from opposition parties.

The Seriti Commission, which was appointed to investigate a US$4.8bn purchase by the ANC government in 1999 of corvettes, submarines, light helicopters, fighter trainers and advanced fighter aircraft, said there was no evidence of corruption or fraud in the deal.

The South African government announced in November 1998 that it intended to purchase 28 SAAB JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft from Sweden at a cost of around $65m per plane as part of the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages.

But the entire deal was plagued by accusations of corruption and in 2011 President Zuma announced it would be investigated by a commission was chaired by Judge Willie Seriti.

While Zuma’s ANC party has celebrated the findings they have been fiercely criticised by opposition parties.

Opposition party the Democratic Alliance said the final report was “massively disappointing”.

Corruption Watch, an NGO working to fight corruption in South Africa, has said the outcome was hardly surprising considering the “thoroughly flawed and irregular proceedings of the commission over the last four years”.

“The report’s eventual failure to address long-standing allegations of corruption in the arms deal prevents closure of this sordid chapter in the governance of large scale public procurement,” it said.

The organisation said the Seriti Commission was perceived to lack credibility and its processes were compromised. It added that there had “hardly ever been an arms deal of this scale that is free of corruption” so to have found no evidence of corruption in this instance was puzzling.

It also pointed to other findings of corruption related to the arms deal over the past 20 years which it said indicated a lack of thoroughness on behalf of the commission. The findings were further manipulated by the exclusion of key evidence.

The lack of investigation of “obscene” amounts of money paid to consultants involved in the deal, several previous convictions related to the deal and concerns that some suppliers had made suspicious payments to consultants was also criticised.

Corruption Watch said it would monitor closely large procurement deals such as South African Social Security Agency’s IT tender to ensure they are transparent. 

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