Questions over arms deal inquiry

The Arms Deal Commission’s public hearings have been postponed until 19 August.

The Arms Deal Commission of Inquiry has been postponeduntil 19 August, 2013. President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to look into the multi -billion rand arms deal.Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The postponement of the Arms Deal Commission's public hearings on Monday has raised further concerns about the credibility of the inquiry.

Six months of hearings were scheduled to begin yesterday but were postponed until 19 August in order to sort out the classification of documents and the composition of the commission.

President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to look into the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal. Zuma himself has previously been linked to allegations of corruption in part of the deal.

The commission has been hit by a series of setbacks over the past few months and has seen several high level resignations.

While lawyers for all parties insisted they were ready to proceed, it's understood affidavits have not been taken from all the witnesses and there is a deadlock over access to classified documents.

It's understood the Ministry of Defence prepared an urgent high court application in an attempt to prevent the hearings from going ahead to sort out the issue of documents.

Judge Willie Seriti, who is heading the inquiry, conceded.

"My view, which is supported by my core commissioner, is that we do not think that an adjournment of a period of two weeks is unreasonable."

It's believed that had Seriti not postponed the hearings, there were at least two other applications that had been prepared in an attempt to halt proceedings.

The commission is due to resume in a fortnight but it's possible the hearings could be delayed again.

PLAGUED BY PROBLEMS

The commission has faced several setbacks since being established, casting its credibility into the spotlight.

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.

JUST ANOTHER WHITEWASH?

Meanwhile, anti-arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne has cast doubt over the inquiry.

Speaking to Talk Radio 702's Redi Tlhabi on Monday morning, Crawford-Browne said he was sceptical of the commission.

"It has been almost two years since the commission was very reluctantly appointed by President Zuma and I'm afraid they are floundering. I'm afraid they are avoiding the issues as well as the terms of reference they were given."

Crawford-Browne said he believed the commission has a second agenda.

"There's a mountain of evidence. There are seven books written about the arms deal and the commission supposedly now wants to restart the whole investigation going back 13 years, which is nonsense."

Meanwhile, former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein has said the public needs to give the commission an opportunity when it does begin.

"We are going to see immediately, as The Sunday Times suggested, whether the commission is just another whitewash, or whether it's going to be a bit more serious than that as soon as they start cross-examining the first witnesses."