After another shock resignation, Seriti commission of inquiry faces a ‘crisis of credibility’
The Seriti commission of inquiry into South Africa’s R70 billion arms deal has “degenerated into farce”, with more damaging revelations about the commission’s shadowy “second agenda” expected to surface this week.
On Friday, Kate Painting, the commission’s former principal legal researcher, decided to break her nearly four-month silence after resigning in March.
This came in the wake of Judge Francis Legodi’s shock resignation as a commissioner “for personal reasons” on Tuesday.
In a statement she released to the Mail & Guardian on Friday, Painting became the second former employee to suggest that the commission appeared to have a secret “second agenda”.
“Despite remaining silent, I have been ostracised by certain members of the legal fraternity. I shall essentially have to rebuild my career but feel it is time for South Africans to reflect and speak out.
“I feel I have a duty to expose the truth,” she said.
A “second agenda” at the commission was something that was initially raised by Norman Moabi, a senior investigator, who resigned from the commission in January because he felt he could no longer “pretend to be blind” to what was going on.
Moabi said the first agenda was that which had been announced by President Jacob Zuma in the government gazette, a commission meant to “inquire into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity”.
He said the “second agenda” was based on the clandestine preparations of documents and briefs that were being handed over to evidence leaders, a process which was closely presided over by commission chairperson Judge Willie Seriti.
A source close to the process said the commission was facing a “crisis of credibility”.
“Not only were they appointed by someone who himself was implicated in arms deal corruption (Zuma), but the resignation of two investigators and Judge Legodi strengthens the view that this exercise is nothing but window dressing.”
Another source said that the commission had been overwhelmed by the mountain of evidence they were presented with.
“They (Seriti and his team) asked for files of evidence gathered by the Scorpions, but were given access to a shipping container. They had no idea of the magnitude of evidence gathered over the years.”
City Press understands that Legodi’s resignation has sparked discussions that will likely see more detailed information about the so-called “second agenda” emerging in the public domain.
Terry Crawford-Browne is the former banker widely acknowledged to have forced Zuma, using the threat of imminent litigation, to appoint the Seriti commission. He said the commission was now “hugely, hugely compromised”.
“It’s degenerating into a farce that I think will implode. The attempt to cover up the scandal only exacerbates the problem,” he said.
Crawford-Browne said that he had met with his legal team to discuss the possibility of further litigation, but that they would wait until tomorrow to see what happened.
Paul Holden, one of the co-authors of The Devil is in the Detail, a comprehensive history of alleged arms deal corruption, told City Press that talk of the “second agenda” was “very worrying”.
“The commission will need to up its game when the hearings begin,” said Holden.
“I think it’s now important for this commission to establish its credibility so it can run as effectively as possible and
give the clearest indication possible that they are looking for the truth, whatever that might be.”
David Maynier, the DA’s spokesperson on defence, said it was very difficult to know if the defence force was even using the arms that had been purchased.
“We know the Gripen (fighter jet) system is underutilised, we know 12 of those aircraft are in storage and there are only six qualified pilots,” said Maynier.
“But the bottom line is that the department of defence has withheld that information in Parliament before a committee. It’s going to be interesting to see how much information they are going to disclose in open sessions before the commission where the media and the public are present.”
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