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‘Hidden hand in arms probe’

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iol news pic Seriti commission arms deal

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Justice Willie Seriti talks about the commission of enquiry into the arms deal. File picture: Masi Losi

Cape Town - An “unknown person” is dictating the operations of the arms deal probe, a senior investigator has charged.

Pretoria lawyer and former acting judge Norman Moabi has resigned from his post as an investigator for the Seriti Arms Procurement Commission, declaring he could not “with a clear conscience pretend to be blind to what is going on…”

In a terse, hand-delivered communiqué, addressed to commission head Judge Willie Seriti and dated January 7, Moabi said he no longer believed the “direction in which the commission is heading (would) achieve the spirit of the founding/enabling Government Gazette No 34731”.

Government Gazette 34731 established the Seriti inquiry under the Commissions Act of 1947, and set out wide and seemingly open-ended terms of reference to probe corruption, malfeasance and possible inefficacies in the R60 billion-plus procurement deal. The terms were widely applauded when the commission was first announced by President Jacob Zuma on October 24, 2011.

Some observers, however, have expressed reservations, drawing attention to the fact that the dramatic announcement was made only as Zuma failed to meet a Constitutional Court deadline in which he would have had to give reasons why he should not be compelled to institute a full judicial commission of inquiry into the arms procurement scandal of the late 1990s.

The sceptics also noted that under the act, the commission would be reporting to the president himself, and not, in the first instance, the South African public. Zuma had earlier been identified as a key alleged beneficiary of corrupt practices in his dealings with Schabir Shaik.

At the heart of Moabi’s concern, as stated in his letter of resignation, was the perception there was a hidden hand directing the strategy and the operating of the commission.

In the context of what he describes as a “total obsession with the control of the flow of information”, he cites the presence of “unknown person(s)” dictating the way evidence was to be dealt with, and “clandestine preparations of the documents and/or briefs”.

While he does not elaborate on whether the “unknown person(s)” were on secondment from executive government, Moabi paints a picture where evidence and processes were carefully contained, and in which the teams were directed in terms of what evidence was to be led and how witnesses were to be handled.

He also alleges that commission staff were not permitted to make inputs into the construction of briefs or the structuring of evidence. Neither were they in a position to exchange ideas or develop broader strategies for uncovering the truth.

All of this, according to Moabi, was in pursuit of the “second agenda” directing the work of the commission, an agenda focused not on getting to the bottom of the scandal, but on delivering a “report to the president of the RSA”.

“I’ve long been uncomfortable with the Seriti Commission, not only with its terms of reference, but also its conduct,” said defence contractor Dr Richard Young, one of the witnesses identified for subpoena by the commission late last year.

“That was why I declined to make a submission, preferring to be subpoenaed in the first place. But even after being notified I was to appear - some time around March - I have been unable to get them to tell me what I have to testify about. So I haven’t been able to get my documents in order, or focus my testimony.

“It would take me three months,” Young continued, “just to get all my papers together and it could take them three years to properly interrogate the substance of them.”

Another witness who declined to make a submission to the commission was former whistleblowing parliamentarian and Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) chairman Gavin Woods. “If there is the kind of interference that Mr Moabi is alleging, it would confirm our worst fears, “ Woods said.

Like Young, Woods has not received a subpoena spelling out the issues on which he would be required to testify.

Arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne - who did make a formal submission to the commission, calling for a cancellation of the procurement deal on constitutional grounds - indicated that while he had expected to be called to testify in March, nothing had yet been received to allow him to plan for the venture.

Earlier Crawford-Browne defied secrecy rules enforced by the commission to make public his submission after being refused permission by Seriti.

DA defence spokesman David Maynier said the resignation letter raised “serious questions around the integrity of the commissions.

“It is important that the commission acts decisively to protect its integrity and the integrity of its findings.”

Approached for comment, commission spokesman William Baloyi denied there were any “such unknown person(s). The commission consists of different staff members assigned to different tasks”.

He also said the perception that “there is no free flow of information and exchange of ideas within the commission staff is unfounded”.

Defending the apparent tardiness of the commission in issuing subpoenas, Baloyi said that they had been issued and “are in the process of being served on the relevant witnesses”.

He confirmed the hearings would be open to the public.

Cape Times


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