Public hearings into the multi-billion Rand arms deal start in less than a month and there is uncertainty around exactly when Fana Hlongwane, widely seen as a leading witness, will appear before Judge Willie Seriti and his co-commissioners.
Arms Procurement Commission spokesman William Baloyi said contact had been made with all 12 witnesses called to appear during the first round of public hearings.
“Some have confirmed and others are still in discussions with our evidence leaders concerning their availability and evidence.
“Hlongwane has responded through his attorneys and discussions concerning his evidence are also underway. The precise dates of his appearance at the public hearings will be determined in due course,” Baloyi said.
Hlongwane was an advisor to Joe Modise, South Africa’s first defence minister of the democratic era. A number of allegations have been made against him including one of accepting R24 million to help secure the contract for 26 Gripen fighter jets.
One witness who has a confirmed appearance date is David Maynier. The Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans said he had been summoned to appear on March 4, the first day of the hearings in the Tshwane metro council chambers in Pretoria’s Sammy Marks Conference Centre.
The hearings are scheduled to last until May 31 and even though they are being billed as open, this can change.
“As a rule the hearings will be open to the public. However, witnesses can apply to the chairman for their evidence to be heard in camera and the request may be granted if good reasons are given,” Baloyi said.
Another on the witness list for the first round of public hearings is Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. She is widely recognised as the original whistle blower on corruption and fraud related to the acquisition of high-tech military equipment that started in 1998 when she was an Independent Democrats MP.
At that time government announced it would acquire frigates, submarines, helicopters and fighters to rejuvenate the prime mission equipment of the South African Air Force and Navy. Preferred bidders were announced at the Aerospace Africa Defence Exhibition in September that year. Negotiations followed with deals signed in December 1999. The contracts, worth some R30 billion at the time, became effective on April 1, 2000. Then Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said in June 2010 the cost of the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDP) had grown to R42 362 053 814.
The deals saw South Africa gain four German-built Meko A200 SAN frigates, three state-of-the-art Type 209 MOD 1400 submarines (also German-built), 26 Saab Gripen fighter aircraft, 24 British-built BAE Systems Hawk Mk 120 fighter trainers and 30 Italian-built AgustaWestland A109 Light Utility Helicopters. All of these have now been delivered and paid for. While not included in the original acquisition package, four Super Lynx maritime helicopters were also acquired and delivered in 2008 for use aboard the frigates.