South Africa, Politics

E-tolls and the arms deal: another play, same actors

By Chris Gibbons 3 May 2012

Gauteng's e-tolling project may be on hold, but, as CHRIS GIBBONS reports, close similarities to the Arms Deal mean it shouldn’t be left there.

Chris Dover is an Englishman, around 50 years of age, who lives and works in the southern Swedish city of Jönköping, where he’s employed as a bid manager by a company called Kapsch TrafficCom AB.

You may have heard of Kapsch TrafficCom. It’s the Austrian company at the centre of the Gauteng e-tolling project, and which will make several billion rand over the lifetime of the project. Its website says “Kapsch TrafficCom specialises in technology, solutions and services for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) market.” It’s a division of the much larger Kapsch Group, which has about 5,000 employees around the world. Chris Dover is one of them.

In late 1999, Kapsch bought a company called Combitech from Sweden’s Saab. This had been Saab’s venture into e-tolling, and the authoritative TollRoadsNews reported the deal in January 2000, noting that “Combitech made great efforts to get into the north American market… but was unable to do so.” We may surmise that Saab was quite pleased to unload this small and unprofitable part of its business. This is the company that became Kapsch TrafficCom AB – in effect, the Swedish subsidiary of the Austrian parent.

While the suits were cooking up this little piece of business, Chris Dover was working as a team leader at Saab Aerosystems. This is a division of Saab AB, the Swedish defence giant. Saab AB has nothing to do with the company of the same name that makes motorcars, but it is the company that makes the Gripen multi-role fighter aircraft. South Africa signed a contract for 26 Gripens back in 1999 and we started taking delivery of them in 2008. If you go to the Saab Group website, and click on the button “Air”, you’ll be able to see the first of those Gripens in action over Table Bay. It’s real Top Gun material, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Chris Dover’s public profile on LinkedIn says he holds an MSc in aeronautics and flight test from Cranfield College of Aeronautics in the UK, and has experience on both the Harrier I and Harrier II projects, as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon. So it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find someone with this skills set working on the Gripen, too. In fact, he joined Gripen International KB, another subsidiary of Saab, in 2002 and worked for them for three years, before going back to Saab Aerosystems.

But then in May 2006, Dover returned to Gripen International KB for another stint – nearly four years this time, according to LinkedIn – as product capability, bid and campaign manager. In the shadowy world of defence, this translates as “senior sales executive”.

Gripen International KB is a company providing technical support for the Gripen fighter. If you look carefully on the Armscor website, you’ll see at least seven contracts there for things like “Interim product support for the Gripen Aircraft System for SA by the original equipment manufacturer”. It would not be stretching the imagination too far to assume that Chris Dover might have worked on these bid documents. He could even have visited South Africa, although he could just as easily have worked on the bids for other Gripen-buying countries, like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Thailand or even Sweden itself.

And while all of this was happening – while Kapsch was buying Combitech from Saab and Chris Dover was climbing Saab’s corporate ladder – Saab Aerospace was cooking up another little deal. Along with Arms Deal partner, BAE Systems, it had formed a company called SANIP (Pty.) Ltd. I have a copy of the Operational Transfer Agreement which Saab and BAE Systems used to establish SANIP. “NIP” is the acronym for National Industrial Participation, and SANIP was the joint venture between Saab Aerospace and BAE Systems to fulfil their obligations under the Arms Deal Offset Programme. Questions in Parliament here have revealed that very little NIP ever took place.

We also know – because Saab president, Håkan Buskhe admitted as much in a public statement on 16 June last year – that R24-million was paid by SANIP to the late Joe Modise’s right-hand man, Fana Hlongwane. A subsequent City Press investigation revealed that, in addition, Hlongwane was paid as much as R200-million by BAE Systems, although he was dumped by that company in 2007. Commenting in Business Day on Buskhe’s public admission, also in June 2011, Terry Crawford-Browne, who has done so much to expose the corruption at the heart of the deal, maintained SANIP was set up with the specific purpose of paying bribes to leading South African officials. The evidence is persuasive, to say the least.

Which brings us back to Chris Dover and his current employer, Kapsch TrafficCom AB. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Dover works there as a bid manager – it’s there on his LinkedIn profile. For bid manager you can read: “top salesman”. Why, you may ask, would a company that sells traffic tolling systems want to hire a man like Dover whose expertise lies in fighter aircraft such as the Gripen and the Eurofighter?

Could it be Dover’s expertise has developed over the years from being one of systems and aeronautics to understanding the ways of governments when making large-scale purchases – like fighter aircraft and e-tolling systems? It may be that his talent lies in how tenders work and how to deal with officialdom. These are sales with very long cycle times and require a special kind of patience. Perhaps Chris Dover has this kind of patience?

This is speculation and I must state very clearly that I have not been able to discuss these questions with Dover himself. He is difficult to track down, LinkedIn profile notwithstanding. Nor am I in any way at all implying that he personally has done anything wrong, illegal or improper. Far from it. But I am using his career path to illustrate the similarities between the Arms Deal and the E-Tolling deal. In both cases, huge sums of money changed hands, much of it leaving South Africa. Documents remain sealed, restricted or classified and, in the case of e-tolling, no-one, not even transport minister S’bu Ndebele, nor his deputy, Jeremy Cronin, seem able to explain why the information is not public and why the project is so fantastically expensive. Speaking to Cronin last week, he was also unable to confirm to me that corruption had been ruled out in this deal. That someone like Chris Dover is able to move so easily between two such apparently different companies speaks volumes.

Remember that the Gripen was rejected by the SA Airforce as far back as 1997. It was not fit for purpose and too expensive. Yet we went ahead anyway and bought 26. The reasons why are very apparent. As you drive along roads like the N1 and N3 around Johannesburg and Pretoria and pass beneath those fancy white toll gantries, you might ask yourself if each one is, in fact, a mini-Gripen? DM



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