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Arms deal must be made public - DA

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe, President Jacob Zuma and Judge Willie Seriti. The commission of inquiry set-up by Zuma to probe the multi-billion rand arms deal has hit a snag. Graphic: The Star

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe, President Jacob Zuma and Judge Willie Seriti. The commission of inquiry set-up by Zuma to probe the multi-billion rand arms deal has hit a snag. Graphic: The Star

Published Feb 22, 2012

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If the arms deal inquiry is to have credibility, its final report must be made public, the DA says.

“We will never reach closure on the arms deal if President Jacob Zuma does not make the final report or parts of the final report of the arms deal commission of inquiry public,” said David Maynier, the DA’s spokesman on defence.

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“The (DA) will therefore submit a parliamentary question to (Zuma), challenging him to provide an assurance that he will make the final report of the commission of inquiry public, regardless of the findings.”

The regulations on procedures for the commission of inquiry, released this month, give the president the power to release or withhold the interim and final reports of the inquiry, and make it an offence for anyone else to do this without the president’s permission.

The inquiry has until November next year to finish the work, and a further six months for its report.

“If the final report, or parts (of it), are not made public it will not only defeat the purpose of the commission, but also defeat the ends of justice,” said Maynier.

“The public have a right to know the truth after more than a decade of covering up what could be the biggest corruption scandal in the history of South Africa.”

The regulations also give the commission chairman powers to restrict information at the inquiry. For example, the chairman’s permission will be required for access to records, the disseminating of documents, and the transcribing of shorthand notes and recordings. The regulations also say witnesses may be cross-examined only if the chairman deems this necessary.

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The executive director of the NGO Corruption Watch, David Lewis, said there were “grounds for concern” in the regulations.

“To tackle corruption what is needed is a maximum degree of transparency without jeopardising national security.

“You err on the side of transparency.

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“These regulations seem to err on the side of secrecy.”

Dr Richard Young, managing director of CCII Systems – which lost out on an arms deal contract and later successfully sued the government for a payout – described the regulations as “almost completely one-sided” and geared towards protecting the inquiry and the “potentially guilty”.

“From someone having done it before… being a potential witness looks and feels like walking into a minefield with one’s hands over one’s ears,” said Young.

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Terry Crawford-Browne, of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction, whose court action led to the appointment of the inquiry, said the regulations appeared to disregard presidential expressions of commitment to deal with corruption.

Young said: “There seems to be no balance to protect witnesses, complainants and whistle-blowers. Having endured the public protector’s public phase hearings into the arms deal, (I know) they can suffer severely in attacks on them regarding integrity, credibility and motive, with very little in support.”

The regulations say witnesses must pay for their own lawyers.

As a potential witness, Young said he believed there should be some help for such witnesses as whistle-blowers and complainants.

Gavin Woods, who was chairman of the standing committee on public accounts when the arms deal probe first began, was less pessimistic. Woods, now professor of public finance and director of the anti-corruption centre at the University of Stellenbosch, said the terms of reference were the most important indicator of what the inquiry would investigate and how. - The Star

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