The sudden resignation of attorney Norman Moabi from Judge Willie Seriti’s Arms Procurement Commission with regard to a possible “second agenda” has again raised questions about the Commission’s integrity.
Coming seven weeks before the Commission’s first public hearings, the resignation has elicited an appeal from Democratic Alliance (DA) MP David Maynier for its “integrity to be restored”.
Last September Seriti, by way of a statement, also plugged holes regarding its integrity. This came after media allegations that the Commission was dragging its feet and was conducting its work in a manner calculated to prevent disclosure of wrongdoing to protect certain individuals within the present government.
Moabi alleged in his resignation letter (leaked to Afrikaans daily Beeld) that interference and a loss of faith in the Commission’s work were the reasons he wanted out of the Presidentially appointed Commission.
“I joined the Commission to serve with integrity, dignity and dedication to truth. I cannot, in all conscience, pretend to be blind to what is actually going on at the Commission,” he wrote.
In support of his “second agenda” claim, Moabi stated taht Seriti ruled the Commission with an iron fist as well as manipulated or withheld facts and information from Commission members, including evidence leaders and attorneys/investigators.
In response, Seriti termed Moabi’s allegations as, “false, probably because of a personal grudge he harbours against me based on reasons he has not disclosed”.
The Supreme Court of Appeal judge also noted Moabi “has given himself the designation of senior investigator and in some publications has been referred to as a lead investigator.
“He held no such position with the Commission. His appointment letter gives his designation as attorney/investigator and he was with the Commission for only four months.”
Seriti said he had thoroughly studied minutes of various Commission meetings in an attempt to find any indication of Moabi’s second agenda allegations but this was unsuccessful.
“Additionally, there are also factors which strongly militate against the existence of a secret agenda.
“I am a senior judge and am fully conscious of my oath of office. I am assisted by two other senior judges whose integrity is beyond reproach. All of us know the success of this Commission depends on our credibility. It is inconceivable we would depart from the clear mandate given us by the President and pursue an unknown agenda.
“The information gathered to date by the Commission and which will be the subject of the upcoming public hearings was extracted from documents received from various sources as well as submissions from some witnesses. The sources know about the information and the Commission will be totally discredited if any of it were to be concealed or in any way manipulated.
“I have already engaged private, independent specialist investigators to probe aspects of the terms of reference in respect of which the Commission’s internal legal team does not have the requisite experience. It is inconceivable their reports would be manipulated to serve a hidden agenda.”
Seriti added he had engaged private independent legal practitioners to lead witnesses at the public hearings starting on March 4 in Pretoria.
“They will be in full control of leading evidence as well as interacting with witnesses prior to the hearings. The commission has always interacted with them in an open, transparent manner and they have no reason to doubt my bona fides. Instead they have expressed confidence in me and my fellow commissioners.”
The Commission’s ten evidence leaders said in a statement none of them ever had “instructions in any form” to further deny the existence of any second agenda.
“We have never been cajoled to have a particular outcome as far as the objectives of the Commission are concerned. We have also never been dictated to or deprived of our views in order to reach a particular envisaged outcome,” they said.
Maynier said Moabi’s resignation added to “enormous public cynicism about the arms deal following what appears to be a decade long cover-up of the biggest corruption scandal in our country.”
He appealed to Seriti to build public trust in the Commission and its work. This, not only with regard to Moabi’s sudden resignation but also other factors. These include:
• Long delays experienced in initially setting up the Commission;
• the departure of evidence leaders advocates ‘Vas’ Soni and ‘Sticks’ Mdlala;
• the appointment of Riena Charles, acquitted of fraud and corruption charges, as a legal investigator;
• the secondment of staff from state departments, including the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, to the commission;
• doubts as to how it would be possible for the Commission to complete its work and deliver a final report within its 24-month lifespan;
• and most importantly, why, with only a few weeks until public hearings are set to commence, key witnesses have not yet received summons setting out the scope of evidence which they will be required to provide to the commission at the hearings.
The Commission has been charged by President Jacob Zuma to investigate allegation of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages, better known as the Arms Deal.
The multi-billion Rand acquisition that started in 1998 saw the SA National Defence Force acquire stealth frigates, Type 209 diesel electric submarines, Gripen third generation fighter jets, Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainers and Agusta A109 light utility helicopters. All have been delivered and taken into service.
With over three million pages of documentation already in its possession, the Seriti Commission will start its first round of public hearings in March. Thirteen weeks have been set aside to hear evidence from 12 witnesses, including former MP Patricia de Lille, now Cape Town mayor, who is widely accepted as being the original whistle blower on corruption and fraud related to the multi-billion Rand defence equipment acquisition that started in 1998.