Arms Deal Commission lifespan to be extended?


With public hearings into the multi-billion Rand arms deal set to start on Monday, the Presidency has indicated consideration is being given to extending the life of the Arms Procurement Commission by a year.

The Commission, headed by Constitutional Court Judge Willie Seriti, was given until the end of November to investigate and report back to the President on allegation of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity with regard to the acquisition of new front line equipment for the SA Air Force and SA Navy. It was established in November 2011.

The first round of public hearings, scheduled to start in March, were postponed until August 5.

The latest list of witnesses includes senior air force and navy officers as well as senior personnel from Armscor, the Department of Trade and Industry, National Treasury, former president Thabo Mbeki and former ministers Alec Erwin, Mosiuoa Lekota, Ronnie Kasrils and Trevor Manuel, currently Minister in the Presidency will start testifying on August 5.

The public hearings are set to last until January 28 next year, well past the original expiry date of the Commission. When announcing the revamped list of witnesses in July Commission spokesman William Baloyi indicated continuation of the hearings beyond November “will be subject to the grant of an extension by the President”.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj yesterday indicated the Commission’s lifespan could be extended by 12 months.

Baloyi said the first round of public hearings would deal with the rationale for the Strategic Defence Procurement Package and “whether the arms and equipment acquired are under-utilised or not utilised at all”.

This has again come under scrutiny with reports that a cash-strapped SA Air Force has all but grounded its Agusta A109 light utility helicopter fleet. These rotary-winged aircraft replaced the Alouette 111s.

A lack of funds has also seen to the effective grounding of at least 12 of the 26-strong Gripen fleet at AFB Makhado in Limpopo, home to the country’s lone jet fighter squadron and 85 Combat Flying School where the Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainers are based.

The original list of witnesses included Patricia de Lille, now mayor of Cape Town and the original arms deal whistleblower when she was an ID MP, as well as long-time opponent to the acquisition, Terry Crawford-Browne. Others were Fana Hlongwane, advisor to former Defence Minister Joe Modise, Gavin Woods, Andrew Feinstein, Richard Young and DA shadow defence and military veterans minister, David Maynier.

These and other witnesses, as well as those now set to appear during the first round of public hearings, could be recalled at a later stage. This will be when the Commission deals with allegations of impropriety, fraud and corruption, a phase when the whistleblowers and those implicated in wrongdoing will feature Baloyi said.

The public hearings have been dealt what Maynier calls “a serious setback” with the resignation of Judge Francis Legodi from the Commission a scant two working days before Seriti delivers his opening remarks in the Tshwane metro council chamber.

This is the third resignation from the Commission and follows that of senior investigator Norman Moabi and law researcher Kate Painting.

In addition to the light utility helicopters, the SA Air Force acquired Gripen jet fighters, Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainers and Westland Lynx maritime helicopters while the Navy rejuvenated its blue water capability with four Valour Class frigates and three Heroine Class Type 209 diesel-electric submarines.