Mixed reactions on arms deal terms of reference

The terms of reference for the arms deal inquiry commission have been praised as broad, while at the same time criticised as not broad enough.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe announced the terms in Cape Town on Thursday.

The commission, headed by three judges, has been given power to subpoena witnesses who could be fined or face up to a year in prison should they refuse to cooperate.

Radebe said the 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.

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.

The enquiry will take two years and the final report will be submitted to President Jacob Zuma, as well as interim reports every six months.

Not quite there yet
The previous head of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Andrew Feinstein, who resigned from government when the arms deal investigations were squashed, said it was “a good thing” the terms are broad.

“If the commission’s judges have courage they would have the scope to investigate all allegations of corruption,” he said.

But the terms of reference didn’t cover all necessary aspects of the arms deal, he said.

“They include nothing about the thwarted investigations into the arms deal.”

An investigation by Scopa was squashed and the joint investigation team’s report into the deal was altered before being presented to Parliament.

He said the commission should also investigate why both investigations didn’t work.

“What is also problematic is that the interim reports and final report only go the president,” he said.

“Zuma is a subject of the investigation as a result of allegations of corruption made against him and the prosecution of his former financial advisor Shabir Shaik,” he said.

Must be made public
“When a previous investigation into the arms deal was submitted to former president Thabo Mbeki, the report was altered before being submitted to Parliament,” Feinstein said.

Therefore the reports should be made public at the same time they are sent to Zuma, he said.

The chairperson of Scopa, Themba Godi, said he had “full confidence” in the judges involved in the commission.

“The six monthly reports should be welcomed.”

“It is a very important tool that the commission can subpoena witnesses” added Godi.

But said he hoped that the commission could call witnesses out of the country to hear evidence.

“If any bribery took place, the South African must have been bribed from someone outside of the country, therefore the commission needs to speak to people overseas,” he said.

“I hope the budget will be extended if more money is needed,” said Godi.

“The R40-million allocated could be too much or too little depending on how many witnesses the commission calls and what happens.”

The Democratic Alliance called Zuma’s step “brave” and said the terms of reference were “comprehensive” as they included “the rationale for the arms deal”.

The DA’s David Maynier urged the commission to “get on with its business so we can get the truth about what could turn out to be the biggest corruption scandal in the history of South Africa”.

Political analyst Professor Steven Friedman said the terms of reference indicate if anything from the investigation has been placed off limit.

“I can see no allegations which are of concern to the South African public, which have been excluded from the investigations.”

“South Africans want to find out whether public trust or money was abused and there is nothing that will stop the commission from being able to establish that,” he added.

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.—Additional reporting from Sapa

For more news on the arms deal visit our special report.

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