Big guns to give evidence at Seriti Commission


Judge Willie Seriti’s Arms Procurement Commission seems to be reaching the end of the witness list for its first round of public hearings with Thabo Mbeki, Mosiuoa Lekota, Ronnie Kasrils and Trevor Manuel all given dates to testify in May and June.

Other names which appear on the list of witnesses released this week by the commission include former senior SA Navy officers Jonathan Kamerman and Anthony Howell as well as Pierre Steyn, a former Defence Secretary.

Plagued as it has been by adjournments for reasons ranging from non-availability of witnesses to attempting to have documents declassified and the more mundane ones of the public hearing venue (the Tshwane metro council chambers) not being available due to either council business, power outages or flooding, doubts have been expressed as to whether the Commission will even reach a second round of public hearings.

It is scheduled to finish its business in November and report to the President no less than six months later. There does not appear to be any reference to the final Commission report having to be made a public document.

Former president Mbeki was deputy president at the time of the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP) and headed the government committee that dealt with the acquisition of new front line equipment for the SA Air Force (SAAF) and Navy. This saw the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) re-acquire its blue water capacity, lost with the decommissioning of the President Class frigates and the Daphne submarines, via four Valour Class frigates and three Heroine Class diesel-electric submarines. The SAAF acquired Gripen fighters, Hawk lead-in fighter trainers and light utility helicopters as well as four Super Lynx maritime rotorcraft. These are operated by the air force and are deployed aboard the frigates.

Lekota was Minister of Defence at the time the contracts for the aircraft and vessels were entered into with German, Swedish and British companies. Kasrils was his deputy and Manuel held the post of Minister of Finance.

Alec Erwin, a former trade and industry minister, is the only previous Cabinet Minister to have testified before the commission to date. Seriti and his single co-commissioner have also heard evidence from senior Armscor personnel as well as Department of Trade and Industry and National Treasury representatives on various aspects pertaining to the industrial participation (IP) and defence industrial participation (DIP) of the multi-billion Rand acquisition deal. Serving and retired officers from the air force and navy have also testified about the technical aspects of the acquisitions.

The Seriti Commission was established by Presidential decree to investigate allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity around the SDPP. It was originally given a year to complete its work but this was extended for a further 12 months.