Judge Willie Seriti during the Arms Procurement Commission hearing at Sammy Marks Square, Pretoria. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - An evidence leader was prompted to move along during the questioning on Friday of former deputy defence minister Ronnie Kasrils before the Seriti Commission of Inquiry.

“I think we are dealing with peripheral issues. Let's go straight to the crux of the matter, to the evidence that Mr Ronnie Kasrils must give,” commission chairman judge Willie Seriti said.

He was addressing the commission's evidence leader Simmy Lebala in Pretoria. Lebala was asking Kasrils about his role as deputy under former defence minister Joe Modise.

Seriti continued: “We all know what a deputy minister is. Now we are dealing with SDPP (strategic defence procurement package). Let us go to the crux of this matter.”

When Lebala began questioning Kasrils, he took him through his curriculum vitae and his sworn statement.

“Your paragraph two says prior to your appointment you were deputy minister for defence to (former) minister Joe Modise. Under whose presidency was that?” Lebala asked.

“That was under the presidency of the late president Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela,” he replied.

In the sworn statement, Kasrils states that as a deputy minister at the time of the 1999 arms deal, he was only a deputy minister and therefore not a member of Cabinet as the Constitution stipulates.

Lebala asked Kasrils to explain his working relationship with Modise.

“You state that the post of deputy minister did not entail being privy to all matters handled by the minister. You have said you had a good relation with Minister Modise. Does this mean you were not privy to all matters handled by him?” Lebala asked.

“Were you allowed to express yourself?”

Kasrils said he was.

He said his relationship with Modise dated back to the liberation struggle. However ministers were generally busy and did not brief their deputies on all the issues they dealt with.

President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the multi-billion rand deal.

The government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.