Arms inquiry extension considered

2013-07-31 22:34
Gripen fighter jet. (File, AFP)

Gripen fighter jet. (File, AFP)

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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma is considering extending the commission of inquiry into the multi-billion-rand arms deal, the presidency said on Wednesday.

"President Jacob Zuma has received and is considering a request to extend [it] by 12 months," spokesperson Mac Maharaj said.

The commission's term was due to expire in November. Its public hearings were scheduled to start next week.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and Congress of the People (Cope) president Mosiuoa Lekota were some of the people expected to testify in the first phase of the inquiry.

The commission, which is probing the R70bn arms procurement deal, would hold public hearings from 5 August until 31 January at the council chambers of the Sammy Marks Conference Centre, Pretoria.

The deal, which was initially estimated to cost R43m, has dogged South Africa's politics since it was signed in 1999, after then Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) MP Patricia de Lille raised allegations of corruption in Parliament.

Zuma himself was once charged with corruption after his financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who had a tender to supply part of the requirements, was found to have facilitated a bribe for him from a French arms company. The charges against Zuma were dropped in April 2009.

The commission, which is probing the R70bn arms procurement deal, subject to Zuma granting an extension beyond November, spokesperson William Baloyi said.

Mbeki and Manuel were set to testify in the second half of January.

Rationale for arms

Baloyi said the first phase of the commission would "deal with the rationale for the Strategic Defence Procurement Package", and whether the arms and equipment acquired were under-utilised or not utilised at all.

The first witnesses would be navy and air force officials. Armscor witnesses would be named later.

Kasrils and Lekota would be called as witnesses between 30 September and 4 October, followed by department of trade and industry officials until 11 November.

Former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin was expected to testify for three days in November, followed by National Treasury officials until the end of that month.

"It is also important to note that the programme is not cast in stone and circumstances prevailing at the hearings may require that it be adapted or altered, and this may also effect the sequence of witnesses," Baloyi said.

"Some of the witnesses may be recalled at a later stage, when the commission deals with the terms of reference relating to allegations of impropriety, fraud and corruption in the acquisition process, a phase in which the 'whistleblowers' and those who are implicated will feature."

The commission would be held in the council chambers of the Sammy Marks Conference Centre in Pretoria.

- SAPA

Read more on:    cope  |  pac  |  trevor manuel  |  thabo mbeki  |  jacob zuma  |  shabir shaik  |  ronnie kasrils  |  mac maharaj  |  mosiuoa le­kota  |  patricia de lille  |  arms deal
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