Social justice organisations want Seriti Commission dissolved


At least 30 South African social justice organisations want the Seriti Commission of Inquiry dissolved.

The call comes after weekend revelations by the Sunday Times that President Jacob Zuma allegedly received bribes in the form of cash, overseas trips and clothing from French arms company Thales.

Speaking on behalf of the organisations which have endorsed the call for the Commission’s dissolution, Murray Hunter of the Right2Know Campaign said they had five major concerns about the Seriti Commission.

These are:

The refusal to allow access to documents. The Commission has refused to make huge amounts of evidence public. This includes thousands of documents from the official investigations of corruption by South African law enforcement, which the Commission does not even appear to be using to inform or guide its own work.

Refusal to admit documents. The Commission has declared some of the most crucial documents pointing to corruption to be “inadmissible”. This includes a report prepared by a law firm for one of the arms companies, which details its own role in corruption and bribery in the Arms Deal. The report is the Debevoise and Plimpton report.

Rulings that have hamstrung independent witnesses. The Commission has made a ruling that prevents witnesses from presenting secondary evidence; witnesses may only speak to documents they have authored. Witnesses are also precluded from referring to any information not within their own personal knowledge. This means only those with direct personal knowledge of corruption in the Arms Deal – effectively those who were party to it – would be in a position to give evidence of that corruption.

Failure to call witnesses. The Commission has failed to call witnesses from the arms companies, from the list of known or suspected middlemen, or from any of the foreign law enforcement agencies that have investigated parts of the Arms Deal. Only two people of the dozens who have been directly implicated in impropriety have been called to testify. Only one member of the official law enforcement investigations, which were later dismantled, is due to testify.

Failure to gain the public’s trust. Since January 2013 there have been at least six senior resignations from the Commission staff, at least four of whom resigned in protest at the Commission’s conduct. In August 2014, two senior evidence leaders resigned from the Commission, saying its approach “nullifies the very purpose for which the commission was set up”.
“This is why we have lost faith in the Seriti commission’s capacity to reveal the truth behind the Arms Deal. It has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the public,” Hunter said, adding the Commission should be dissolved, a full and transparent criminal investigation launched and all implicated in wrongdoing should be prosecuted.

As of September 29 the organisations endorsing the call for dissolution of the Seriti Commission are Corruption Watch, Lawyers for Human Rights, Right2Know Campaign, Section27, Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), South African History Archive (SAHA), Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre (COPAC), Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), Ndifuna Ukwazi, Equal Education, Afesis-corplan, Democracy from Below, Embrace Dignity,, Africa-Arab, Social Justice Coalition, Gun Free SA, Treatment Action Campaign, Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC), Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), Claremont Main Road Mosque Board of Governors, Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement, Khulumani Support Group, Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), Zambezi FoX (Freedom of Expression), Reparations for Africa, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation Isiseko Literacy Project and Earthlife Africa Cape Town.

Eight international social justice organisations – Campaign Against Arms Trade (UK), Diakonia Sweden, EG Justice, International Peace Bureau, NOVACT International Institute for Nonviolent Action, Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS), The Corner House and the World Peace Foundation – have to date joined the dissolution call.

Terry Crawford-Browne, whose insistence that the Seriti commission be established led him as far as the Constitutional Court, is the next witness to appear before the commission. He is scheduled to start giving testimony next Monday after he earlier this year also called for the Commission to be dissolved.