The South African Council of Churches today welcomed the withdrawal of the controversial Conventional Arms Control Bill.
The government decided to withdraw the Bill yesterday after the Portfolio Committee on Defence and a number of church and civil society organisations raised strong objections to the legislation. The Bill will be reviewed by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) and the Ministry of Defence.
"The Cameron Commission and the Defence White Paper stopped short of calling for the complete dismantling of the armaments industry inherited from the apartheid era--on the condition that future arms deals were consistent with the principles of responsibility and due restraint," noted the SACC's Acting General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Donald Cragg. "The proposed Conventional Arms Control Bill would not have satisfied that commitment."
The Bill, which would have required all arms imports and exports to be approved by the NCACC, made no provision for Parliament to exercise any effective oversight role.
"The international arms trade is notoriously corrupt," said the Rev. Malcolm Damon, Co-ordinator of the SACC's Public Policy Liaison Office. "It is vital that Parliament be able to review and even veto arms deals." Damon added the auditor-general's reported discovery of serious procedural irregularities in last year's R30 billion arms procurement package illustrated the dangers of insufficient oversight.
The SACC was also critical of the lack of consultation and public scrutiny in the drafting process. No draft bill was published for comment. Only two government agencies were consulted during drafting. The Portfolio Committee on Defence was being asked to approve the legislation on such an abbreviated schedule that there would have been no opportunity for public hearings. Thus, the SACC applauded yesterday's statement from Portfolio Committee Chair Thandi Modise in which she pledged to hold public hearings once a revised Bill is reintroduced.
In an effort to ensure that the review of the Conventional Arms Control Bill is informed by wider public debate, the SACC and other members of the Coalition for Defence Alternatives will sponsor a "People's Hearing" on the Bill on Friday, 22 September, at 10:00 in the Lecture Hall of the South African Cultural Museum (corner of Adderley and Wale Streets), Cape Town.
20 September 2000
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