/ 15 July 2013

Mbeki, Manuel to appear as witnesses at arms commission

Former president Thabo Mbeki.
Former president Thabo Mbeki.

This first phase of the public hearings in August is set to be a scene-setter, which might come as a disappointment to many who expected revelations around the corruption allegations to flow from the outset.

The Mail & Guardian has been informed by sources close to events that the three figures are not expected to be cross-examined on the nature of their involvement in the arms deal this time around.

At the end of February this year, the commission announced that its hearings, due to start on March 4, would be delayed by six months because of the mountain of evidence before it.

The commission first subpoenaed and requested many of the whistleblowers to take to the stand at the public hearings. Then it suddenly did an about-turn, and announced it would change the list of witnesses it would call. The long-awaited list, released on Monday afternoon, includes government officials from treasury, the department of trade and industry, and the department of defence and military veterans.

This time around, many of the government officials will take to the stand to explain the "rationale" behind the strategic defence procurement package, said commission spokesperson William Baloyi.

"It is emphasised that the public hearings will be conducted in phases and that this list contains only the witnesses to be called in the first phase," said Baloyi. "A separate list of the witnesses to be called in the next phase will be issued at the appropriate stage."

'Witnesses may be recalled'
Baloyi said the first phase will deal with the arms purchases, whether the arms and equipment were under-utilised or not utilised, and what the offsets there had been.

"Some of the witnesses may be recalled at a later stage when the commission deals with the terms of reference relating to the allegations of impropriety, fraud and corruption in the acquisition process, a phase in 'whistleblowers' and those who are implicated will feature," he said.

The commission has been hit by controversy since President Jacob Zuma set it up in 2011, after his hand was forced by litigation from arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne.

The commission was dealt a heavy blow when former senior investigator Mokgale Moabi resigned in January this year, claiming that its chairperson, Judge Willie Seriti, had a second agenda.

Some of the witnesses, including Crawford-Browne, have become disillusioned along the way as the commission has claimed that no ANC members had been implicated in the arms deal scandal.

In response to allegations that no ANC members will be interrogated by the commission, Baloyi has in the past claimed that no evidence against ANC members had come to light.

Whistleblower witnesses
Some of the whistleblower witnesses have had to cancel flights and legal representatives, but their biggest complaint has been they have not been kept appraised by the commission about what is happening. 

Richard Young, whose company CCII Systems lost a tender relating to the navy's new corvettes, said he had been told he would now no longer be expected to appear as a witness at the public hearings until the first quarter of next year, although the commission was originally due to wrap up in November this year.

The public hearings will now begin in Pretoria on August 5.