The Seriti Commission of Enquiry into the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPPs), better known as the Arms Deal, has been widely condemned as a whitewash and it has now emerged the taxpayer forked out over R137 million to pay for it.
Replying to a Parliamentary question posed by Democratic Alliance (DA) MP David Maynier, formerly the party’s shadow defence and military veterans spokesman, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said the cost of the Commission was R137 264 521.
This is well over the R113 million cost originally touted.
By far the largest portion of the R137 million plus went to paying the Commission’s 10 evidence leaders. Reports have it Simon Lebala was the highest paid evidence leader receiving R13 070 100 between 2012 and 2016.
The Commission had its lifespan extended twice and Judge Willie Seriti handed his final report to President Jacob Zuma on December 31 last year.
While opposition parties blasted the report as “a predictable whitewash” there has been a limited amount of positive response from South African defence and military watchers. They maintain the Commission’s final report shows the front-line equipment acquired for the SA Air Force and SA Navy is being utilised as well as can be expected given the financial constraints imposed on both the Department of Defence and the SA National Defence Force.
A statement issued by the Presidency after Zuma had been given the Commission’s final report indicated there was no bribery, corruption or fraud committed during the acquisition process, initially estimated to cost just on R30 billion but ending at around the R70 billion mark.
It also indicated there were no findings pointing to wrongdoing and the Commission made no recommendations as regards any further action by law enforcement agencies.
The airborne arm of the defence force was the largest beneficiary of the arms deal adding 26 Gripen fighters, 24 Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainers, 30 Agusta light utility helicopters and four Super Lynx maritime helicopters to its inventory. The SA Navy re-acquired its blue water capability when four Valour Class frigates and three Type 209 Heroine Class submarines were delivered.