Seriti Commission delayed again


The long-running Arms Procurement Commission has been delayed again, this time over evidence from Armscor project manager Frits Nortje.

Last week Nortje refused to testify because arms deal critic Richard Young had not come up with the documents needed for cross-examination, Business Day reports. The Seriti Commission subsequently ordered Young to produce the documents by Monday afternoon. When these were not forthcoming, Nortje’s evidence hearing was postponed to March 17.

Nortje, who was project manager in the acquisition of frigates, was supposed to testify last year but was delayed after Young’s request to cross-examine him. Young was one of the losing bidders trying to supply electronic equipment for the South African Navy’s Meko class frigates.
“For how long are we going to accommodate Dr Young before we can have the evidence of Nortje?” Judge Willie Seriti asked. Business Day quotes him as saying that, “We bent over backwards to accommodate him and it has cost us a few months.”

The SABC reported that evidence leaders have battled to get their hands on documents from Young, who laid charges with the Hawks in 2009. He was believed to be in possession of 15 000 documents, some of which could compromise the commission and certain witnesses.

Although Nortje’s testimony has been delayed, the commission continues its work today with evidence from Barry de Beer, Armscor’s manager of defence industrial participation agreements.

The Seriti Commission has been plagued by delays ever since it was established over two years ago. Hearings were set to resume on January 20 this year and run until May 16, but have been adjourned five times because of consultations between evidence leaders and witnesses, the declassification of documents, the unavailability of the venue, the absence of witnesses and Young’s failure to produce documents.

In late March and early April Department of Defence witnesses including former minister Mosiuoa Lekota and his deputy Ronnie Kasrils are expected to take the stand.

Senior officials from the National Treasury are scheduled to appear before Judge Willie Seriti in the last three weeks of April with the names of former Department of Finance director General, Maria Ramos, and her husband, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, on the list of those who have been subpoenaed.

Government’s former chief negotiator in the arms deal Jayendra Naidoo will have five days on the Commission’s witness stand, from May 5 to 9 and he will be followed by former president Thabo Mbeki, from May 12 to 16. Mbeki was deputy president at the time of the acquisitions and chaired the Cabinet committee which oversaw the acquisition of fighters, lead-in fighter trainers, light utility and maritime helicopters as well as frigates and submarines for the airborne and maritime arms of service of the SA National Defence Force.