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Arms deal: Navy spending in the spotlight

Members of the navy are currently testifying as part of the commission's first phase of hearings.

The Arms Deal Commission of Inquiry is being held at the Sammy Marks Conference Centre in Pretoria. Picture: Belinda Moses/EWN

PRETORIA - More testimony is expected from navy experts at the Arms Deal Commission's public hearings today on why the multi-billion Rand deal was necessary.

The commission resumed on Monday after a two week postponement in order to sort out the classification of documents and the composition of the commission.

The inquiry, which was set up by President Jacob Zuma in 2011 and is led by Judge Willie Seriti, is investigating allegations of corruption.

Members of the navy are the first witnesses lined up to testify as part of the commission's first phase of public hearings.

The Trade and Industry Department is also expected to give evidence on the jobs that were created through the arms deal.

Admiral Rusty Higgs, the second witness to take the stand, believes the controversial arms deal acquisition was in line with the country's constitution.

Higgs, who has worked in South African Navy since the 1970s, told the commission the frigates and submarines acquired during the arms deal were modest yet modern.

Four frigates and three submarines were acquired by the South African Navy.

He said even a visit to China saw officials very impressed with the frigates.

"These vessels, even though they are modest, they are probably of the most modern looking vessels in the world today. What also impressed the Chinese was that there were men and women serving in major functional posts onboard that ship."

Higgs also told the commission spending money on boosting the country's military might was an absolute must.

He said the approximately R70 billion used to secure the controversial deal was not a waste, insisting that having such defence capabilities gave South Africa credibility.

But evidence leaders asked him if billions needed to be spent when that money could have been used to address the country's many social ills.

Higgs said this was all debated and a defence review showed it was necessary.

He also told the commission that money was always an issue within the navy and even now equipment needed to be upgraded.

MORE SETBACKS

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

The latest setback was the withdrawal of former president Thabo Mbeki's lawyer Max Boqwana from the inquiry on Tuesday.

Boqwana was also representing Mbeki's former cabinet ministers who have been called to give evidence at the inquiry.

No objections were made by other evidence leaders to Boqwana's withdrawal.

His exit coincided with the first witness, Admiral Alan Green of the South African Navy, taking the stand.

Green gave a technical overview of what was needed at the time and how resources were used, saying the force design was modest.