Ceasefire Campaign wants Seriti Commission halted

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In arguably the strongest opposition yet from civil society to Judge Willie Seriti’s Arms Deal Commission, the Ceasefire Campaign has called it a farce and wants its activities stopped “immediately”.

Even before its delayed public hearings started in August, with a completely revised witness list, reservations were expressed about the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety and irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPP) of 1998.

The Campaign’s Laura Pollecutt said the NGO welcomed the Commission “with reservations” when it was announced by President Jacob Zuma, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
“These reservations increase daily. There have been many adjournments since public hearings started,” she said noting that personnel and operational problems, including the resignations of key personnel and “accusations of a second agenda, which are rapidly becoming very plausible,” were casting even more doubt on the Commission.

Adjournments of the public hearings being held in the Tshwane metro council chambers have been the result of power failures and burst water pipes as well as time-outs being called for de-classification of documents and allowing time for preparation of cross examination.

The latest example of this came on Friday when Seriti granted an adjournment requested by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). This was in response to a request for time to study documents allowing LHR to decide on cross examination of an Armscor witness.

The man who went as far as the Constitutional Court to have the Commission established, Terry Crawford-Browne, is also on record as wanting the commission to be disbanded.

In support of the Campaign’s call for the commission to be halted, Pollecutt cites the shortcoming of commissions created under “an antiquated Commissions Act”.

She said both the Seriti and Farlam commissions (the latter investigating the killing of 26 miners at Marikana in the North West last year) were lacking in the adversarial aspect.
“This should inform commissions of this nature, but it is lacking and is nowhere more evident than at the Seriti Commission”.
“So far compliant military personnel have presented glowing reports on how important the equipment purchased is with no one really there to challenge their bland technically orientated evidence.
“By chance Paul Holden, whose painstaking research is a major contribution to revelations around the deal, was accidentally at the Commission and became determined to cross-examine an Armscor official, only to be slapped down by Seriti when he did.
“One of the recommendations Ceasefire made in its submission to the Commission was that it ought to explore the effects of the revolving door in the military–industrial complex and the conflicting interests of the ‘defence family’ in the substance of the arms deal and the associated corruption. We consider this a critical aspect but it cannot be done if those providing evidence are from this very military–industrial complex and cannot be challenged by people or civil society outside of this circle,” she said.

At the beginning of November the Commission’s lifespan was extended until next November by Zuma. It was originally given until the end of this month to complete its work and report to the President.

The multi-billion Rand SDPPs saw the air force acquire Gripen jet fighters, Hawk lead-in fighter trainers, Agusta-Westland A109 light utility helicopters and Super Lynx maritime helicopters while the navy re-established its blue water capability with frigates and submarines.