Seriti Commission finds nothing wrong in Arms Deal


The Seriti Commission found it was necessary for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to acquire equipment in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP), better known as the Arms Deal, and that, among others there was no bribery, corruption or fraud committed.

This is the gist of a statement issued by President Jacob Zuma today in which he released all three volumes of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into allegations of corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Arms Deal.

The Presidential statement gives six specific points to back up the Commission’s investigation.
“On the rationale for the package, the Commission found it was necessary for the SANDF to acquire the equipment it procured in order to carry out its constitutional mandate and international obligations of peace support and peacekeeping.
“On the question of whether the arms and equipment acquired are under-utilised or not utilised at all, the Commission found all the arms and equipment acquired are well utilised.
“On whether the job opportunities anticipated to flow from the Package have materialised, evidence tendered before the Commission indicated the projected number of jobs to be created through the arms procurement process was achieved.
“The Commission stated the probabilities are that the number of jobs created or retained would be higher than 11 916.
“On whether the offsets anticipated to flow from the arms procurement have materialised, the Commission found it was fair to conclude the anticipated offsets have substantially materialised.
“Adequate arrangements are in place to ensure those who have not met their obligations do so in the immediate future.
“On whether any person or persons improperly influenced the award or conclusion of any of the contracts in the procurement process, the Commission found the evidence presented before it does not suggest undue or improper influence played any role in the selection of the preferred bidders, which ultimately entered into contracts with the Government.
“On whether any contract concluded through the procurement process is tainted by any fraud or corruption, the Commission states the widespread allegations of bribery, corruption and fraud in the arms procurement process, especially in relation to the selection of the preferred bidders and costs, have found no support or corroboration in the evidence, oral or documentary, placed before the Commission.”

The Presidency also points out that no evidence was found through the Commission’s “own independent inquiries”.

On the question of consultants and payments to them “the Commission points out the large payments made to consultants gave an impression the money may have been destined to decision makers in the arms procurement process and they may have been bribed.
“The fact that some of the consultants knew or had personal contact with some of the senior politicians in the government of the day was cited as corroboration.
“On this point, the Commission states not a single iota of evidence was placed before it, showing that any of the money received by any of the consultants was paid to any officials involved in the SDPP, let alone any of the members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee who oversaw the process, or any member of the Cabinet that took the final decisions, nor is there any circumstantial evidence pointing to this.”

According to the Presidency statement “preferred bidders confirmed the money was for the consultant’s services and nothing else. Some of the individuals implicated in allegations of wrongdoing gave evidence before the Commission and refuted the allegations and insinuations levelled against them. None of them was discredited as a witness.”

In conclusion Zuma’s statement takes the Commission’s assertion that “there was no evidence such decisions were tainted by any improper motives or criminal shenanigans” and adds there was also “no basis” for disbelieving the evidence given by members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee.

There are no findings pointing to wrongdoing and the Commission made no recommendations as regards any further action by law enforcement agencies.

The release of the report comes four-and-a-half years after the commission was established and four months after it handed its findings to Zuma. Terry Crawford-Browne took the government to court over the arms deal and forced a commission of inquiry to look into the matter. Notably, its mandate was to look into allegations of bribery and corruption made by Crawford-Browne and other arms deal activists like Richard Young, and made it clear it was a fact-finding mission and not a forensic inquiry. Thus it focussed on existing evidence and heard from more than 50 witnesses who testified during public hearings.

Opposition political parties and civil rights organisations have been sceptical about the report, with the Right to Know (R2K) campaign for instance saying in January that “mounting concerns at the Seriti commission’s deeply flawed process leave little hope it will get to the bottom of widespread allegations of corruption in the Arms Deal”.

Transparency International noted that “the Commission has since been subject to allegations that it is biased and has undergone high-profile resignations of its staff members and participants – supported by 40 civil society organisations.”

A number of evidence leaders resigned from the Commission citing allegations of a hidden agenda and arms deal critics Paul Holden, Andrew Feinstein and Hennie van Vuuren said they were not given enough time or access to documents to prepare their evidence. The three later withdrew from the commission.

The SA Air Force (SAAF) 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.

A reply to a Parliamentary question last year revealed the Seriti Commission had cost the South African taxpayer more than R113 million during its lifespan. The Commission was initially given two years and a R40 million budget to do its work but this was extended and additional funding was also provided.