Seriti Commission will not respond to fee payment questions


The Arms Deal Commission appears to be taking exception to the level of interest shown in it by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and said, via spokesman William Baloyi, it will not respond to questions regarding payment of evidence leaders.

David Maynier, the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister, has indicated he will be seeking a formal inquiry into the “unreasonable and excessive” fees charged by senior evidence leaders and evidence leaders appearing before the Seriti Commission of Enquiry into the multi-billion Rand arms deal.

Maynier was told by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha the single largest item of expenditure in the Commission’s R83 million budget to the end of September was fees paid to evidence leaders.
“Evidence leaders have cost the taxpayer R41,9 million between the 2012/13 and 2014/15 financial years. The top-earning senior evidence leader was Advocate S Lebala SC who took home R10,2 million. The top-earning evidence leader was Advocate P Ngobese who took home R6,7 million.
“In general the fee charges appear to be excessive and unreasonable given that counsel were acting for a public body; counsel were remunerated from public funds and counsel were not dealing with particularly complex matters,” he said adding “counsel, acting as senior evidence leaders, are supported by evidence leaders much the same as senior counsel are supported by junior counsel in other matters”.

Also worrying to Maynier is that senior evidence leaders and evidence leaders at the Seriti Commission appear to be entitled to take on other briefs while acting for the Commission.

He has, in an attempt to establish clarity on legal fee structures, asked for formal enquiries on fees charged with the Pretoria Society of Advocates, the Johannesburg Society of Advocates and the Society of Advocates of KwaZulu-Natal on the advice of the General Bar Council of South Africa.

He said the General Council of the Bar’s code of conduct states the profession is not “a mere money-getting trade”. “Exactly the opposite impression is created by the excessive fees charged by Arms Commission evidence leaders,” he said.

Baloyi said the Commission would not be responding to Maynier adding: “the DA persistently probes the remuneration of evidence leaders and other Commission officials yet he does not make similar enquiries about the remuneration of commissioners, evidence leaders and officials of other commissions that have been busy in the country this year”.

In an earlier statement Maynier pointed out commissioners Judges Willie Seriti and Hendrik Musi are High Court judges and “are not remunerated by the Commission”.

The Commission was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in 2011 to investigate “allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPP) “. These were approved by Cabinet and Parliament in 1999 and saw the SA Air Force (SAAAF) acquire 26 Gripen jet fighters, 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainers, 30 Agusta A109 light utility helicopters and four Super Lynx maritime helicopters. The SA Navy re-acquired its blue water capability with four Valour Class frigates and three Type 209 diesel electric Heroine Class submarines.

In two rounds of public hearings since its establishment the Commission has heard submissions from retired and serving officers as well as senior Armscor, Department of Trade and Industry and National Treasury personnel. Also on the stand have been former president Thabo Mbeki and former Cabinet Ministers Trevor Manuel, Alex Erwin and Mosiuoa Lekota and anti-arms deal activists and campaigners including Terry Crawford-Browne, at whose insistence the Commission was established.

This Thursday and Friday will see the final witness called in two phases of public hearings when Fana Hlongwane appears on the witness stand. He is last in line in a list that started in August 2013 with Rear Admiral Alan Green.

The commission has been given another extension to complete its work by April next year and present a report to President Jacob Zuma no less than six months later.