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Mbeki hits back at arms deal accusers

31st May 2003

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President Thabo Mbeki hit back yesterday at those he branded "fishers of corrupt men", who were intent on using unfounded allegations to stereotype black Africans.

In his weekly letter in the African National Congress' on-line publication, ANC Today, he said such people were attempting to use claims of irregularities surrounding the arms deal to serve their own purposes.

"They are confident that these long shadows, and allegations without number, will engulf and suffocate the forces that fought for and lead our process of democratisation, reconstruction and development.

"However, what our country needs is substance and not shadows, facts instead of allegations, and the eradication of racism," he said.

Auditor general Shauket Fakie had been targeted as one of the possible "big fish" by being accused of doctoring the final arms deal report.

As part of this campaign against the AG, critics had charged him with having sanitised the final report, possibly at the instance of senior members of government. "They say nothing of the fact that the AG is required by the law to show his draft reports to any institution he may be auditing, for any comments it may wish to make.

"The AG is free to accept or reject any comments made by those he has audited.

"This happens regularly, is required by law, and carries no imputation whatsoever of corrupt behaviour on the part of the AG," Mbeki said.

Opposition parties, and observers, have called for the investigation into the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal to be re-opened.

This follows claims the final report - unveiled in Parliament in November 2001 - was heavily edited, and left out findings on gifts received by key players in the deal.

But the AG, who, along with the Public Protector and National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, probed the deal, has dismissed the allegations, saying, among other things, the draft and final reports have not been closely studied and compared.

The president yesterday said the AG had taken strong exception to this charge of fraud.

However, in "barely disguised language, the fishers have said that they are convinced that the AG is lying".

"Naturally, they will not bother to supply facts to disprove what the AG said," he said.

Mbeki also refuted allegations that the government influenced the choice of French group, Thomson, as a sub-contractor for the Navy's purchase of corvettes.

The department of defence's then head of acquisitions, Chippy Shaik, was found to have a conflict of interest in that his brother, Schabir, was a shareholder in the company's local subsidiary, ADS.

The losing bidder, South African-based electronics company C2I2, is contesting the sub-contract.

Mbeki said the government only dealt with the primary contractors, and had no influence over the awarding of sub-contracts.

"The government has explained this very clearly before, that it entered into a contract with the GFC (German Frigate Consortium) to supply the required number of corvettes, meeting all the stipulated specifications.

"The proposition that the government influenced the choice of Thomson by the GFC as one of its sub-contractors is both a blatant falsity concocted by the fishers, and a logical absurdity," he said.

Mbeki said the ANC would continue to fight against campaigns to entrench a stereotype that had, for centuries, tried to portray Africans as corrupt, prone to theft and self-enrichment, and contemptible in the eyes of the "civilised".

"We must expect that, as usual, our opponents will accuse us of 'playing the race card', to stop us confronting the challenge of racism," he added. – Sapa.
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