South Africa: Don’t cancel ‘Arms Deal’ Admiral tells commission

By Christopher Szabo

Following calls to cancel the multi-million dollar Strategic Defence Procurement Package, that many have claimed is causing South Africa’s growing rich and poor divide, top naval officers argued for continued ability to keep sea-lanes safe.

Rear Admiral Robert “Rusty” Higgs continued his testimony on Friday, with Michael Kuper (SC), a high-ranking lawyer “leading evidence” for the Seriti Commission of Inquiry. According to the Sowetan, Kuper said:

“I want you to assume that the navy receives a letter from Cabinet saying it has been decided to cancel the package which involves the corvettes and the submarines.”

Admiral Higgs stressed that this would practically destroy an arm of service that patrols over a million square miles of ocean. He said:

“If the navy was asked to do that, it would virtually shut down the navy’s ability to meet its constitutional mandate. With (the remaining) old vessels we would be exceedingly limited.”

He added:

“In my judgment, the SA Navy needs more. It is often much better and cost-effective to buy new. The best deal for us would be to build local as [much] as possible. That would help stimulate the economy. I would say that [the current fleet] is exceedingly modest… Yes, we do need more.”

Rear Admiral Philip Schoultz spoke after Higgs, but was asked to continue his testimony in camera as he was to describe matters such as deployment of submarines, which are highly classified.

Engineering News wrote that should an air disaster similar to that of Air France flight AF447 occur off the South African coast, South Africa would not be able to mount a proper search, even given the 26 Gripen multirole fighter jets, the 24 Hawk Lead-in Fighter Trainers and light bombers; 48 Agusta light utility helicopters; four maritime Super Lynx helicopters as well as the four frigates and three submarines for the navy.

The new equipment, badly needed by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), has helped prevent Somali pirates from extending their reach into the Mozambique Channel and eventually into South African waters, but desperate living conditions in many “informal settlements” and a “poverty line” of 577 Rand, or 56 US dollars a month mean the government has to, and at the time of the Arms Deal, needed to balance these competing needs.

Unfortunately, partly due to the international economic slump following the financial crisis of 2008, the country’s economy is slowing down, foreign investment is low due to concerns over, among other things, unrest on the mines and the power of labour unions, and poor people, despite the growth of social grants, get relatively poorer by the day.

A recent survey showed more people receive social grants than those who pay taxes.

The Arms Deal is variously pegged at having cost about five billion dollars to a high of seven billion. But this includes the costs of the equipment over their service life. That’s like taking the price of a car and adding the expected interest to be paid to the bank, plus all the servicing costs, costs of possible spares and new tires etc.

The military and industry spokespeople are expected to continue to respond to the commission for the foreseeable future, and then activists and opponents of the arms deal will speak.

These fall into two categories, one that is concerned about alleged corruption and wants to see that corrected and others who are against all weapons, armies, navies and air forces.

Testimony is set to continue on Monday.


Original Article