'Scrapping weapons would place country at risk'

Brigadier General John Bayne says the arms acquired keep the country defence credible.

An AgustaWestland AW109 Light utility helicopter acquired in the arms deal. Picture: Dean Wingrin

JOHANNESBURG - A witness giving evidence at the Arms Deal Commission says losing the weapons and equipment acquired in the deal would put the country at risk.

The Seriti Commission has now been in session for three weeks.

President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal.

The commission, which is back in session this morning, has already heard glowing reports from South African Airforce officials on the Gripens and Hawks acquired in the deal.

Airforce brigadier general John Bayne is currently giving evidence.

Bayne is the director of combat systems and is giving testimony about the time leading up to the acquisition of the arms from foreign companies.

He is currently responsible for the Gripen and Hawks under the defence force.

He says the airforce could take years to balance itself defence wise if the Gripens and Hawks acquired during the arms deal were to be scrapped.

He says constitutionally, what the air force has now works and keeps South Africa defence credible on the continent.

Bayne says it's important to have a balance of national power and defence force capabilities.

"It's essential to have a fighter capability."

He says even though budgets have always been tight in the department, the Gripens and Hawks are technologically sound and the defence force shouldn't be asked to do without them.

Last week, the commission heard about how budgets were tight for the defence force, and sanctions imposed on South Africa during apartheid made it difficult for arms acquisitions to take place with other countries.

Major General Gerald Malinga told the commission budget cuts have plagued the Defence Department since 1990.

Malinga said France and Israel were some of the only countries keen to do business and training with South Africa at the time.

ARMS SALE

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) had failed to comply with tougher reporting requirements.

The committee is meant to ensure that South Africa does not sell or export arms to countries with dubious human rights records.

It is supposed to report regularly to Parliament.

But the DA's David Maynier says that has not happened.

"The NCACC has failed to provide complete reports to Parliament on conventional arms sales to 94 countries worth more than R13 billion.

He says he has written to Justice Minister Jeff Radebe about it.

"I have written to Radebe, who is the chairperson of the NCACC, requesting he provide the corrected versions of the reports to Parliament as soon as possible. I have also asked him to investigate how the directorate failed to comply with the new enhanced reporting requirements."