De Lille on the arms deal

Speech by ID leader at Wits University April 24 2008

"The Arms Deal and its Implications for Democracy"

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests, comrades and friends.

Since I know that many of you here tonight are intellectuals, I thought it would be appropriate to start with a quote from a philosopher. Cicero, the famous Roman statesman and philosopher said that, and I quote:

'A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.'

So it is with corruption. To paraphrase Cicero, it is a treason from within that 'rots the soul of a nation.'

When I first stood up in Parliament and blew the whistle on Arms Deal corruption in September 1999, I was branded by the ANC as being unpatriotic. I knew that this was nonsense and that my patriotism in fact required me to stand up against corruption and expose those that put their greed ahead of the needs of the people of South Africa. I acted in the way that I did because I am guided by certain moral principles, the principles that are enshrined in our Constitution and the very same principles that informed our struggle against Apartheid. However, it seems that we have started to lose our way and that we are forgetting the values that informed the struggle. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions about where we, as a country, are heading, about the values and morals to which we now aspire and about what we condone and what we condemn.

The De Lille Dossier that I released to the media named senior ANC officials who allegedly received kickbacks from the Arms Deal, containing specific allegations on the amounts each individual had received and exactly which European companies had paid them.

Like others, I believed that the ANC Government would respond to these allegations by thoroughly investigating them and taking action against those who had defrauded the state and the people. However, this was not to be and, in the years that followed, the ruling party's handling of this issue was characterised by denial, interference and the thwarting of efforts to launch an independent and comprehensive investigation. We saw a violation of the Constitutional principle of the separation of powers, where the ANC in the Executive and Parliament came together to defend the Arms Deal.

When I first read the information contained in the De Lille Dossier I was shocked. I was shocked that in a few short years so many comrades could go from being involved in the struggle to being criminals that had betrayed the trust of our people. Corruption steals from the poor. It compromises service delivery. It betrays the millions of people that vote for you and put their trust in you. Church leaders, NGOs and others repeatedly advised the ANC Government against signing up to billions of rands worth of weapons that would divert money from the poor, who were in desperate need of resources for education, healthcare, infrastructure and the fight against HIV/Aids.

But the ANC went ahead with the Deal anyway, with the result that for the past 10 years a once proud liberation movement has been in denial and has conducted a dishonest and mischievous cover-up campaign. It seems that individuals in the ANC signed the Arms Deal only for their own pockets and for the coffers of the ruling party. There can be no other reason other than bribery why, when choosing between two bids, a Minister stepped in and forced the committee to choose the most expensive one.

Without even going through the trouble of investigating my allegations, a number of ANC heavyweights immediately went on the offensive and accused me of being an unpatriotic opportunist. Some Ministers even resorted to calling me names. It wasn't long before I became used to the tall men with sunglasses that followed me everywhere.

I received death threats. Some of my sources in the De Lille Dossier were also harassed. One of them was accused of being a ruthless information peddler with no struggle credentials at all. However, I knew, just like the ANC did, that he was a former Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier who had been trained in the Soviet Union and later worked at the ANC's Shell House headquarters.

Despite the ruling party's best attempts, these allegations did not go away. The cracks within the ANC created by the Arms Deal began to widen right from the very start, with further divisions inevitable. Andrew Feinstein, a senior ANC MP, resigned from Parliament in August 2001, citing his unhappiness with the manner in which government was handling the Deal. Feinstein had already been fired as the chairperson of the ANC's parliamentary Public Accounts Committee because he supported my call to government to launch a commission of inquiry into the Deal.

Then my vindications came. The first was when the Auditor General confirmed irregularities in the Deal and the next two were when allegations contained in the De Lille Dossier led to the successful prosecutions of Shabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni. The De Lille Dossier allegations became part of the record of the Durban High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.

During the years of the struggle, our vision was to build a society on the principles of justice, fairness and equality before the law. It was not easy, but our burden was made lighter because we knew in our hearts that as comrades we would make certain sacrifices not because we would gain from them financially later on, but because we wanted to create a caring society, where the needs of the poor and the oppressed were put first. In the first few years after Freedom we had the feeling that we were on the right track. There was robust debate in our new Parliament and a willingness to tackle issues across party political lines. On many occasions Parliament had proved to be willing and able to hold the Executive to account. I had believed that this would be the spirit in which Parliament would tackle these allegations of Arms Deal corruption.

Instead, President Thabo Mbeki himself joined the fray by embarking on a long and painful journey of denial, even pronouncing - live on national television - that there was no prima facie evidence to suggest any corruption in the Deal. He did this even after two Senior Advocates advised him that there was indeed prima facie evidence. Because the ultimate responsibility for the South African Arms Deal rests with President Thabo Mbeki, who as Deputy President presided over the Cabinet committee responsible for the Arms Acquisition Process, we must ask ourselves - what does he have to hide?

Let me read to you an extract from the De Lille Dossier, and I quote:

'Initially the German bid was not short-listed in 1995. The re-entrance onto the shortlist followed a visit by the then Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, to Germany. Suddenly the British and Spanish were ousted from the shortlist and the Germans were included. What caused this change of events?'

Besides this, the SA government has also failed dismally to provide any kind of evidence that the off-sets promised, which it claimed would produce R110bn in investment and 65 000 jobs, have materialized anywhere near the targets. In reply to a question in Parliament to the Minister of Defense on the 6th September 2006, the Minister told Parliament that the Arms Deal had created only 13 000 jobs.

Under President Thabo Mbeki's rule, and largely because of the morally dubious decisions made in the Arms Deal, the power of Parliament to deliver on its mandate to the people has been steadily and painfully eroded. The result of this mass arms acquisition process has been that our young nation, which was once so abundant with noble visions and hope, has slowly lost its way. The ANC has lost its integrity. And while many in government today are dirtying their hands with corruption, the people will one day lose patience with those who fail them and rubbish their trust.

Since the ANC's Polokwane Conference late last year we have seen desperate attempts by the new ANC leadership to protect ANC President Jacob Zuma from having his day in court. There have been numerous trips to Mauritius with the rumoured aim of influencing the decisions of the courts in that country with regard to evidence needed for the Zuma trial in Pietermaritzburg. There have been noises from within the new ANC leadership, although they were later denied, calling on President Mbeki to come clean on his role in the Arms Deal, and the ANC has even set up of an ad-hoc committee to investigate the Deal.

However, almost ten years after I first blew the whistle, the ANC in Luthuli House and the ANC in Government remain in denial. When I stood up in Parliament late last year and confirmed that the ANC had received a cheque for R500 000 from the German arms company ThyssenKrupp, I was ridiculed by the ANC Government. Later, when the Mail & Guardian confirmed what I had said, the ANC remained silent.

Now, at a time when there is desperation in the ANC to save its President from prosecution, an orchestrated campaign has developed to garner support for the idea of an amnesty for those implicated in Arms Deal corruption. I know that this campaign is coming from within the ranks of the ANC. The argument put forward in support of such an amnesty is that this might be the only way that the full extent of Arms Deal corruption can be exposed and dealt with once and for all. This argument is flawed for two main reasons.

Firstly, those responsible for Arms Deal corruption do not deserve any form of amnesty because their actions were not about furthering a higher political cause, but rather their own individual greed and the coffers of the ANC. Corruption is criminal, not political. There is no higher moral value and no political cause or struggle involved here. It is simply a crime by those entrusted by the people to represent them. In this instance they are crooks, not freedom fighters and we cannot provide amnesty for criminal offences, whether or not they have political consequences. If you commit a crime you must pay the price and the law must run its course.

The second issue is one of values and morality. As a country, we are desperately in need of strong moral leadership. Crime and violence are threatening the dream of the South Africa we fought for. We need to create and instill values in our society which encourage respect for the law, for democratic process and for the criminal justice system. We need to say to our people that the law must be respected and that if you break the law you will be punished. We need to inculcate strong moral values and as leaders we need to provide moral direction and lead by example.

By granting amnesty for Arms Deal corruption we will be sending entirely the wrong message to our people. Government will be saying that there is a way out for those who break the law. It will be a further blow to our fight against the crime and corruption that continue to plague our country. It will undermine our justice system, which is predicated on the principle that criminal activities, no matter who commits them, must be investigated and the full force of the law brought against those responsible. If amnesty were granted then those in power would have failed in their duty as leaders to provide the moral leadership our country is so desperately in need of. What kind of precedent would we be setting if we pardoned criminals just because they happen to be members of the ruling party?

What really saddens me is that the ANC seems to have forgotten that the struggle we fought against Apartheid was informed by a strong set of values and morals.  It was a struggle for a country where all are equal before the law. How is it possible that in such a short period of time a party that once fought in the struggle for non-racism, equality and dignity could so easily execute a massive cover-up for those in its leadership that diverted billions of rand from the poor? It is sad that some of those former comrades have now allowed themselves to be corrupted; but they need to face the full brunt of the law.

The people of South Africa should not be fooled into thinking that without the granting of amnesty, the truth about Arms Deal corruption will never come out.

The call for an amnesty is emerging at a time when the investigations by the UK, German and Swedish prosecution authorities into the Arms Deal are starting to uncover massive kickbacks to the tune of millions and when the ANC leadership is trying desperately to remove all obstructions in the way of a Jacob Zuma presidency. Let the ID make its stance very clear - the ANC president has the same right to a fair trial as any other South African.

There is no doubt in my mind that our people, including the vast majority of ANC members, are against an amnesty for those implicated in Arms Deal corruption. Should amnesty be granted, I can assure Mr Zuma that, in his own words, the anger of the voters will 'bite'.

It is clear that the truth will finally come out and that in the long run, as the wheels of justice continue to grind, not one corrupt individual will be able to avoid exposure and prosecution. Instead of an amnesty, the ANC and the government should avoid prolonging this process and declare once and for all, by the appointment of an independent judicial commission of inquiry, that they are determined to come clean and root out the corrupt individuals in their ranks.

Escalating corruption at Government level also points to a wider problem - that of political party funding. As we near the 2009 National Elections, the voice of South African voters continues to be marginalised because of the lack of regulations on political party funding. The impact of this on our democracy cannot and must not be underestimated. Until we get serious about political party funding, the privatisation of our democracy will continue and we will be plagued by funding scandal after funding scandal. The Arms Deal has been the biggest scandal and has inflicted the most damage on our democracy, but there have been so many others, from allegations that former ANC NEC member Saki Macozoma diverted R9 million from a black economic empowerment deal into a trust linked to the ANC's front company, Chancellor House, to revelations that The Network Lounge, which in effect put politicians up for sale at the last two ANC conferences, is owned by the ANC.

One thing is clear; without the regulation of political party funding, scandals like these will continue to damage our democracy.

In light of corruption in the Arms Deal, we need to be weary of the possibility of corruption in future Government deals. The Chancellor House ANC business front not too long ago was going to tender for Eskom contracts. The ANC said it would exit the contracts, but it is an extremely dangerous and worrying thought that while the country suffers from the current electricity crisis - which by the way is the fault of the ANC government - the ANC would have stood to benefit from contracts running into billions of rands. They create the problem, the rest of us pay for it and they laugh all the way to the bank.

Therefore, in line with my duty to all South Africans to ensure that their interests are put first, the Independent Democrats will keep a close eye on the planned new nuclear power stations, whose cost will exceed R700 billion, which have been put out to international tender. We cannot allow the corrupt amongst us to derail the dream of a free, democratic and just South Africa for all. How we deal with Arms Deal corruption will set a precedent for our fight against corruption in years to come. Therefore, the ID will accept nothing less than an independent judicial commission of inquiry whose findings and recommendations must lead to prosecutions.

Only then will we be able to stop the traitor who moves amongst those within the gate freely, and only then will we be able to silence his sly whispers.

Thank you.

Speech delivered by Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats, at Wits University, April 24 2008