Staffing issue could halt Arms deal hearings

There are questions about the commission's credibility.

One of the Saab Gripen fighter jets bought by the South African Airforce as part of the country's controversial arms deal. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Public hearings into the multi-billion rand arms deal are scheduled to begin on Monday amid questions surrounding its credibility.

The Arms Deal Commission, which was set up by President Jacob Zuma in 2011, has experienced several setbacks over the past few months and has seen several high level resignations.

Last week, Judge Francis Legodi and Advocate Tayob Aboobaker, an evidence leader in the commission, announced their resignation.

However, Aboobaker later retracted his resignation letter.

The commission's spokesperson William Baloyi says despite problems, public hearings will go ahead today.

"It's unfortunate that there was another resignation from senior counsel. Fortunately, after some engagement, the resignation was withdrawn and it's now all systems go for the hearings."

The first witness is only expected to be called on Tuesday.

However, the commission could be forced to postpone the hearings as the presidential proclamation says the chairperson must be assisted by two commissioners.

Public hearings are set to run until 31 January 2014.

The inquiry is being headed by Judge Willie Seriti.

COMPROMISED CREDIBILITY?

Last week the Presidency said the credibility of the Arms Deal Commission wasn't compromised by Legodi's resignation.

However, arms deal critic Terry Crawford-Browne said he still smells a cover-up.

"The problem is they think they can bury it with more and more fun and games, and they think it will go away; well it won't."

Former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein said Legodi's resignation was deeply concerning.

"There have now been three very high level resignations. In the case of all of them, it has either been stated explicitly, or there's the sense, that people are very unhappy with the direction of the commission."

He said the resignation compromises the commission's credibility.

"I'm troubled. Does this mean the commission will only comprise two judges? It seems to me they've decided they're going to go ahead with the official view of the arms deal - the government view - and they are going to push ahead with that regardless of what is happening."

The Democratic Alliance (DA)'s Mmusi Maimane said the setbacks were interfering with the commission's ability to adequately do its job.

"The commission has suffered multiple changes, which in fact hampers its ability to investigate properly. We believe, as the hearings are set to begin, that we need to find the right people and ensure we can restore public trust in the commission."

PLAGUED BY PROBLEMS

In January, senior investigator Norman Moabi quit after writing to Judge Seriti, alleging that the commission was not transparent and had a "second agenda".

In May, commission secretary Mvuseni Ngubane was found dead in his car in KwaZulu-Natal.

Police said a suicide note was found next to his body.