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Arms deal probe empowered to go after SA's top dogs

Emsie Ferreira

The commission of inquiry into the arms deal will have the power to subpoena witnesses, including members of the executive, says the justice minister.

The commission of inquiry into the arms deal will have the power to subpoena anyone and recommend legal action against people who improperly influenced contracts, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Thursday .

“They will have the power to subpoena anybody, including members of the executive,” the minister said as he announced the body’s terms of reference in Cape Town.

Radebe said the three-member commission, chaired by Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Willie Seriti, would also have powers of search and seizure, would hold public hearings and would be able to compel witnesses to answer questions.

Failure to cooperate with the commission would be an offence punishable with a fine or up to a year in prison.

The commission would complete its work within two years.

It would submit a final report to the president with recommendations on whether legal proceedings should be instituted against anyone, contracts should be cancelled or financial losses to the state recovered.

The terms of reference state that the commission would consider whether any part of the arms deal was “tainted by any fraud or corruption capable of proof” that justifies its cancellation.

Radebe said the mere fact that President Jacob Zuma instituted the commission indicated that he would take its recommendations seriously.

Interim reports
The final report would be made public, he said, though interim reports submitted to the president every six months would not necessarily be released.

The commission’s scope of inquiry included the off-set deals linked to the state’s arms buying spree in the late 1990s.

It would look into whether job creation and other benefits from those deals materialised.

Radebe said the commission would have a budget of R40-million to conduct its work and would be seated in Johannesburg.

Deputy Judge President of the High Court in Pretoria, Willem van der Merwe, and Judge Francis Legodi of the same court, are the other two members of the commission.

Radebe said the judges would be assisted by three advocates—Vas Soni, Sthembiso Mdladla and Mahlape Sello, who were handpicked by Seriti.

The minister described Zuma’s decision to appoint the commission as a watershed moment in South Africa’s history.

The commission would work independently to probe persistent allegations of corruption in the multi-billion-rand arms deal.

“The establishment of this commission and the commencement of its work, represent a watershed moment in the history of democratic South Africa, in a quest to rid our nation of what has become an albatross that must now cease to blemish the reputation of our government and the image of our country,” Radebe said.

“As we cross the arms deal Rubicon, we wish to assure all South Africans that this commission will work independently of everyone, including the executive.”

Arms deal opponent Terry Crawford-Browne welcomed the powers of subpoena given to the commission.

“It certainly indicates that the president is serious, which is a fantastic step forward,” he told reporters.

Crawford-Browne said the president’s response to his criticism of appointing sitting rather than retired judges would determine whether he would drop his court case, widely believed to have forced Zuma to appoint the commission.—Sapa

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