Since it resumed public hearings on January 20 this year the Seriti Commission has adjourned no less than 12 times.
Reasons given for the adjournments range from the by-now typical South Africa one of a power failure in the Tshwane metro council chambers where the hearings are being held, through to the venue and specific witnesses not being available. Other reasons given by the Commission, officially termed the Arms Procurement Commission, for temporarily halting public hearings include declassification of documents, consultation between evidence leaders and witnesses and consultation regarding the request by anti-arms deal activist Richard Young in connection with official documentation to allow him to prepare properly for cross examination.
Judge Willie Seriti’s Commission has also been hit by a number of high profile resignations. The latest of these saw him lose his senior evidence leader, Advocate Tayob Aboobaker, who left last week. Reports, since denied by Commission spokesman William Baloyi, indicated he resigned due to “disagreements” with Seriti. Cape Town daily Die Burger reported today Aboobaker’s departure could be the trigger for more Commission staff to resign.
The first high profile departure was that of Judge Francois Legodi, one of Seriti’s co-commissioners, followed by senior investigator Norma Moabi, and senior researcher Kate Painting. Other staff has also left which Baloyi said in November last year was because their work was completed and they were no longer needed.
Rumours of nepotism, in-fighting and unprofessional conduct, all of which were denied by the Commission, abounded at the time of the resignations.
Die Burger reports that Terry Crawford-Browne, the anti-arms deal activist who went as far as the Constitutional Court to ensure the Commission was established, said he was not surprised by the latest resignation.
He told the paper the Seriti Commission was “a circus and a waste of taxpayers’ money”.
Giving evidence last week National Treasury deputy director general, Andrew Donaldson, said: “the total nominal expenditure (the total cash outlay) on the SDPP between 200/01 and 2013/14 has been R46 666 million”.
“The all-in costs of the loans (capital plus interest), actual and projections, as at March 31, 2014, amount to R38 203,2m (capital) and R12 838,2m (interest). Fees paid (management, commitment, legal fees etc) amount to R211,2m.”
When the SDPP was first announced an expected cost of R30 billion was given.
The Commission had its lifespan extended for another year by President Jacob Zuma in November last year.
It has to, in terms of the proclamation establishing it, submit interim reports and recommendations to the President “from time to time and at least every six months prior to finalisation of its report”. Seriti also has to submit his final report to the Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) six months after the Commission has completed its work, expected to be by November.
The terms of reference establishing the commission in November 2011 do not make any mention of whether Zuma has to make public any of Seriti’s interim reports or his final report.
The Commission is investigating allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the 1999 Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP), which saw new front-line equipment acquired for the SA Air Force (SAAF) and SA Navy (SAN).
This comprised 26 Gripen fighters, 24 Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers, 30 A1098 Agusta light utility helicopters, four Westland Super Lynx maritime helicopters, four Valour Class frigates and three Type 209 diesel-electric submarines.