Arms commission stutters amid tussle over documents

2013-11-22 09:14

Yet another postponement at the arms deal commission has raised questions as to whether the commission will finish its work by November next year at its current pace.

President Jacob Zuma extended the work of the commission by a year earlier this month.

This week alone there have been two adjournments.

On Tuesday, the hearings were adjourned to allow evidence leaders time to collate their documents. This is not the first time evidence leaders have requested extra time to work through documents that have been in the commission’s possession.

No reason was given as to why evidence leaders were only given the documents they needed at such a late stage before examining Armscor witness Johan Odendaal, who was testifying about his role as the programme manager for the light utility helicopter programme.

But sources inside the commission expected more postponements.

Yesterday, David Cote from Lawyers for Human Rights requested an adjournment to go through about 820 pages of documentation.

He said they had requested the documents on November 6 but these were only made available yesterday.

“Our job is made extremely difficult when we only get the documents a day before we need to cross-examine the witness because we still need to consult with out clients and read through all the documents,” he said.

Spokesperson of the commission William Baloyi said this was the normal conduct of commissions.

“Postponements in public hearings are inevitable. At any rate, the postponements are always meant to advance the commission’s work and are never a waste of time,” he added.

Cote, who represents critics of the arms deal Andrew Feinstein, Hennie van Vuuren and Paul Holden, said these delays may be an indication of the fall-out of the decision to cut staff.

Last month all but two lawyers and researchers in the commission had their contracts terminated and there have been allegations that Judge William Seriti’s “right hand man” and “enforcer”, Fanyana Mdumbe has been making the evidence leaders’ job difficult by handing over documents late or not at all.

“We are concerned by the commission’s failing to renew contracts which will negatively affect its ability to undertake research,” said Cote.

Numerous reasons have been put forward for the adjournments, including a lack of pagination of documents, declassification of evidence bundles and electricity failures at the Sammy Marks Building in Pretoria where the hearings are taking place.

Cote said their clients were also being unfairly and incorrectly blamed for several of the adjournments.

“We call on the commission to ensure an efficient use of the limited resources and time that have been made available to ensure that the full story behind the arms deal is made public.

“We have already gone on record regarding our concerns with certain procedural difficulties in collecting documents and cross-examination,” he said.

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