Critics accuse arms deal commission of holding up process

Prominent arms deal critics at the arms procurement commission say the latest round of delays over the acquisition of documents has effectively locked them out of the process altogether.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in September 2011 after the Western Cape High Court was asked in 2009 to appoint an independent judicial inquiry into alleged corruption in the Arms Deal. The commission began its hearings in August 2013. The Arms Deal being probed saw government acquiring, among other items, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the South African Air Force, as well as frigates and submarines for the South African Navy.
Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren, all authors and critics of the deal represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) on May 28th accused the commission of making it impractical and impossible to cross-examine key witnesses. “LHR was hindered this week from effectively cross-examining Rear Admiral Jonathan Kamerman [now working for ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems] on his technical knowledge of the purchase of corvettes forming part of the multibillion-rand arms deal and the allegations of corruption against him,” LHR said on behalf of the three men. LHR said it was only given one day to study nearly 800 pages of documents related to Kamerman’s evidence, making it impossible for the attorneys to cross-examine him. “It was due to this that LHR declined to cross-examine Kamerman and reserved the right to recall him at a future date after these documents had been delivered.” This is not the first time these critics have alleged that the commission makes it impossible to acquire key documents. “A recent example was our inability to cross-examine former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin due to a lack of access to relevant documentation, including the contracts on which the procurement packages were based.[...] For the past year, we have only been given documents at the last minute and been expected to have thoroughly examined them and cross-examine as soon as the witness has completed their testimony. We have requested a series of documents since February 2013. So far, we have only been given those that are attached to witness statements,” the lawyers said.
But commission spokesperson William Baloyi said the lawyers had access to Kamerman’s witness statement, which should have been sufficient for cross-examination. He also said the delay in acquiring the documents was related to when the lawyers requested the documents, and accused LHR of being unprepared.
Meanwhile, former intelligence minister (deputy minister of defence at the time of the arms deal) Ronnie Kasrils was due to testify on June 2nd but last minute changes to the schedule will see him testify on 6th while Pierre Steyn, former secretary of defence, will be cross-examined on 5th. The commission has adjourned until then, spokesperson William Baloyi said, the primary reason for the postponement was additional requests to cross-examine Steyn, “whose testimony seemed to implicate politicians”, including one from then-president Thabo Mbeki. Baloyi said the commission informed witnesses ahead of time whether they were likely to be implicated in testimony in order to afford them time to prepare. Mbeki and former finance minister Trevor Manuel are due to testify in mid-June 2014.
Kasrils will be the second former minister to testify about the multibillion-rand arms deal. Former trade and industry minister Alec Erwin testified in February. While not personally accused of corruption, Kasrils – now an ANC outsider – is well-placed to provide insight into the inner-workings of the 1999 deal. (Mail & Guardian)


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