Arms deal critics to raise concerns

By Drum Digital
19 August 2013

Critics of the so-called arms deal will enlighten the Seriti Commission of Inquiry about their misgivings, evidence leader Matshego Ramagaga said on Monday. In her opening statement at the commission's public hearings in Pretoria, Ramagaga outlined a list of "individual critics" who would address the inquiry. "[Cape Town mayor] Patricia De Lille's evidence will deal mainly with the fact that she reported suspected impropriety around the strategic defence procurement package (SDPP) to Parliament in September 1999 and requested that the acquisition be probed," said Ramagaga. "Subsequently, she received death threats and was made to appear before the investigating directorate serious economic offences, commonly known as [the] Scorpions. With no progress on the investigation, she requested for a 'nolle prosequi' (prosecutor will not proceed) certificate so that she could institute private prosecution." Ramagaga said anti-arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne's evidence to the commission would focus on whether relevant government ministers exceeded their authority by signing the SDPP. Former African National Congress MP and policy consultant Andrew Feinstein made a joint written submission to the commission with author Paul Holden, criticising the arms deal. "They believe that the decision to pursue the SDPP acquisitions was fundamentally irrational, considering South Africa's post-apartheid military posture and the country's overwhelming socio-economic needs," said Ramagaga. "They submit that the SDPP failed to create the 65,000 jobs that were promised when the planned acquisition was announced in December 1999." She said the pair's submission stated they believed selection of three of the four primary contractors in the SDPP was done in an irregular manner. Other witnesses included Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, former public accounts committee (Scopa) chairman Gavin Woods, and former DA MP, author Raenette Taljaard. In the initial phase of the Seriti Commission, Ramagaga said several government departments and entities would be called to make presentations. "The evidence to be presented during this first phase will be limited to the terms of reference [of the commission] which deals with the rationale, utilisation, and the offsets, including jobs [from the arms deal]," she said. "The commission intends to lead the evidence of government departments and entities in the first part of the first phase and also the evidence of those witnesses who criticised the armaments acquisition in the second part of the first phase." Ramagaga said the defence and military veterans department, arms procurement parastatal Armscor, and the national treasury would make presentations on the rationale behind the armaments acquisition. The SA Navy, SA Air Force, and Armscor would address the commission on the utilisation or non-utilisation of the equipment. The trade and industry department would give evidence on the "realisation of job opportunities and the offsets anticipated to flow" from the arms deal. Earlier, another evidence leader Tayob Aboobaker, SC, said the commission's second phase would start after January next year. Aboobaker said the commission should not be judged on speculation but on the results it had set out to achieve when it completed its work.

"Give those who have been implicated the opportunity to demonstrate whether the finger of suspicion has been correctly placed at their door," he said. "The commission's findings have the potential to regenerate our nation and to give renewed faith to our people in the validity of the legal processes and the rule of law," he said. President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal. One of the three commissioners, Judge Francis Legodi, resigned on the eve of the start of the public hearings last month.

On August 6, the presidency said the inquiry would continue as a two-man commission while Zuma considered whether to appoint a third member.

-by Sapa

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