Less than two hours after starting the long-awaited first round of public hearings into the multi-billion Rand strategic defence procurement package, the Arms Procurement Commission has been adjourned until August 19.
Arms Procurement Commission chairman Judge Willie Seriti told the first day of the hearings in Pretoria’s Tshwane metro council chamber that he did not see the declassification of documents, requested by the SA National Defence Force’s legal team, as “unreasonable”.
Following last week’s sudden resignation of co-commissioner Judge Francis Legodi, Seriti said a decision on a replacement would have to be made by President Jacob Zuma. This after legal representatives for some of the witnesses indicated the Commission would not be able to properly fulfil its mandate if there were only two presiding judges, news media reported on social media platforms from the hearing.
In his introductory remarks Seriti gave a short background on how the Commission was set up and how witnesses were selected, Sapa reported.
“Our evidence leaders consulted with all witnesses. They were satisfied those people would be able to assist the Commission,” he said.
Evidence leaders would lead witnesses in questioning.
Apart from the SANDF legal team, witnesses from the Department of Trade and Industry had also appointed lawyers to represent them.
The Commission has been dogged by problems since it was set up by the President in November 2011 to investigate allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package.
Legodi’s resignation is the third from the Commission this year and follows that of senior investigator Norman Moabi and researcher Kate Painting.
Its mandate, time-wise, expires in November and Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj has indicated Zuma is considering an extension. The current witnesses are, according to a schedule provided by the commission, due to give evidence, until late in January.
The arms deal saw the SA Air Force and SA Navy acquire new front-line equipment in the form of Gripen fighter gets, Hawk Mk 120 Lead-In Fighter Trainers, Agusta A109 Light Utility Helicopters and Super Lynx maritime helicopters with the maritime arm of the SANDF regaining its blue water capability via four Valour Class frigates and three Heroine Class submarines.