Critics of Arms Deal Commission concerned

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday announced he would not replace Judge Francis Legodi who resigned last week.

The Arms Deal Commission of Inquiry was postponed for two weeks to the 19th of August 2013. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Detractors of the Arms Deal Commission have raised concern about the inquiry becoming paralysed with just two judges presiding over it.

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday announced he was reconstituting the commission and would not replace Judge Francis Legodi who resigned last week.

Public hearings were postponed earlier this week to allow the President to resolve the issue of the constitution of the commission and a dispute over classification of documents.

Critics of the commission are concerned that with just two judges presiding over the inquiry skirmishes over issues like classification of documents won't be easily resolved.

The Institute for Accountability's Paul Hoffman says this could cripple the commission.

"All of those rulings are either going to have to be unanimous or they are going to result in the commission being paralysed because the two commissioners can't decide what to do with it."

At the same time, opposition political parties and the Congress South African Trade Unions are concerned that the commission is further compromising its credibility and wasting money by postponing public hearings.

The inquiry has been rocked by resignations and allegations of a second agenda which have undermined public confidence.

COMMISSION PROBLEMS

Meanwhile, six months of hearings were scheduled to begin on Monday but were postponed until 19 August in order to sort out the classification of documents and the composition of the commission.

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.

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.