Justice Minister Jeff Radebe promised the much-awaited commission would work independently, but concern is mounting about the involvement of the department of justice after one of its directors of human resources was seconded to take up the key role of secretary to the commission.
Breaking with tradition, the commission’s appointee is also not a legal professional. Human resources director Pretty Luphondo has been seconded from the justice department to replace Mvuseni Ngubane, the respected Durban attorney who allegedly committed suicide last month.
The move is seen by some legal professionals as further proof that the justice department could be trying to take control of the commission, which is being set up to investigate allegations of corruption relating to South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms purchases.
The Mail & Guardian reported last week that, before his death, Ngubane told attorney Mxolisi Nxasana, who is the president of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society, that the justice department was trying to make his role a part-time one, which would not have allowed him to do justice to the job.
“He said that, since the justice department came on board and took over the process, it wanted to dictate his remuneration,” Nxasana said.
“Pretty Luphondo is definitely not an attorney, but she is an experienced administrator who has been appointed to the job of secretary,” said the spokesperson for the commission, William Baloyi.
Baloyi said the commission’s chairperson, Judge Willie Seriti, was happy with the “effectiveness” of the work done by Luphondo when she was setting up systems for the commission and had decided to appoint her in the role.
The names of many ANC politicians, including those of the late former defence minister, Joe Modise, and President Jacob Zuma, have been dragged into the arms-deal scandal over the years, but the plug was pulled on a previous defence review that might have sorted out fact from fiction.
The commission’s aim is to expose any corruption that might have take place. Legal practitioners told the M&G that the secretary of the commission was the custodian of the evidence handed to the commission and was considered to play a vital role.
Along with accepting evidence, Luphondo will be expected to subpoena evidence and handle all administration for the commission.
They queried why the job had not been given to an attorney who would be accountable to the Law Society.
“It is not really acceptable that in a commission like this, which is being watched by the rest of the world, a justice department official is seconded to the crucial task of secretary,” said an attorney, who asked not to be named.
“When you use a public servant, who holds them to account? This person will not be accountable to the Law Society.”
Retired banker Terry Crawford-Brown, whose court action to force the government to appoint an independent inquiry led Zuma to announce that he was setting up a commission, told the M&G he was concerned about the entire process involving the arms-deal commission.
“First of all, it took them a helluva time for the arms-deal commission to get this far and we were promised it would be open and transparent. But it is very worrying that submissions have to be secret,” he said.
Discredit and remove
“I have now signed off on my submission, which is on its way to the commission. I am not allowed to release my submission, as I would like to do. We are writing and asking for permission to release my submission and if it is not allowed, why not?”
Crawford-Brown said he had introduced the ANC intelligence operatives who claimed to have information about corruption in the arms-deal purchases to politician Patricia de Lille, who took the information and disclosed it in Parliament 12 years ago.
The M&G reported last week that there had been a campaign to discredit and remove two advocates who were publicly named by Radebe as the key evidence leaders in the commission.
Advocates Vas Soni and Sthembiso Mdladla were handpicked by Seriti, yet they were both unceremoniously dumped without receiving any official notification.
The M&G has established that a campaign to unseat them began months ago.
This week, the commission held a press conference to announce it was back on track. The appointment of new evidence leaders and the secretary would allow the commission to start its work soon, Seriti told a press conference on Thursday.
New legal appointments have now been made to the commission. They are advocates Tayob Aboobaker, Tshepo Sibeko, Barry Skinner, Simmy Lebala, Moss Mphaga, Phumlani Ngobese, Carol Sibiya, S’busiso Zondi and Mhlape Sello, as well as attorney Matshego Ramagaga.