Arms deal commission set to shut public out?

2013-08-11 14:00

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Significant portions of the arms deal commission of inquiry could be held behind closed doors.

On Monday, the commission postponed its public hearings after the department of defence requested urgent meetings to discuss the issue of the declassification of documents.

A defence source said the department believes the commission is in possession of hundreds of thousands of unsorted documents, which a City Press investigation has confirmed.

The source said the department may be forced to apply for certain parts of the hearings to be conducted in camera if the declassification issue is not resolved.

Also of concern to the department is the fact that it has not yet been told if some of its witnesses will be implicated in criminal behaviour during the court hearings or if they will be warned of potential criminal liability.

City Press understands that the department intends to rely on the Constitutional Court’s judgment in a case related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission case in which the court stressed the importance of amnesty in ensuring the truth about apartheid atrocities was revealed.

This could very well see significant portions of the commission’s hearings being hidden from public scrutiny.

It could also mean that commission chairperson Judge Willie Seriti might prevent certain witnesses from being cross-examined, which is within his powers in terms of the arms deal regulations.

The regulations also make provision for the final report to be sent directly to President Jacob Zuma, who will decide whether to release it.

Another stumbling block for the commission has been the overwhelming amount of evidence related to the arms deal. More than 3?million pages of documentation related to the arms deal investigations have allegedly not been scrutinised by the commission.

A source with knowledge of the commission’s work said Seriti had hoped that witnesses would come forward voluntarily to testify, but that this has not happened.

These latest revelations come after the commission was rocked by the resignation of Judge Frans Legodi as one of its three commissioners.

This was in the same week that legal researcher Kate Painting confirmed that she had quit the commission in March because of a so-called “second agenda”.

In a statement released to the Mail & Guardian, Painting said “fear is a common theme at the commission and any noncompliance with the second agenda is met with hostility”.

The term second agenda was first used by attorney Norman Moabi, who also quit the commission in January.

Moabi said the “second agenda” was based on the clandestine preparations of documents and briefs that were being handed over to evidence leaders, a process which was closely presided over by Seriti.

Siphiwe Dlamini, spokesperson for the department of defence, said the department was still in discussion with legal advisers about the process of declassifying documents.

“The process of declassifying documents is a complicated affair. You can’t just wake up and declassify documents,” he said.

Dlamini agreed that there were about 1.5?million records the department was in the process of declassifying and refused to be drawn into discussing others that have not been recorded.

“The department is dealing with the records, which will be used during the commission and nothing else,” he said.

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