/ 2 August 2013

Another arms deal commission resignation over ‘second agenda’

Kate Painting.
Kate Painting.

The former principal legal researcher at the Arms Procurement Commission, attorney Kate Painting, has broken her silence to reveal she resigned in March after a disturbing "second agenda" emerged at the commission.

"When the commission's work commenced in earnest I was one of two legal professionals. We were virtually tasked with setting up the commission. I went on fact-finding trips overseas and initially believed we would fulfil our mandate; another agenda soon emerged, as did an obsessive control of information, family relationships and incompetent administration," Painting said in a statement she released to the Mail & Guardian. "Fear is a common theme at the commission and any non-compliance with the second agenda is met with hostility."

Thirty-one year old Painting has spoken out in the wake of the shock resignation on Wednesday of the commission's highly respected commissioner, Judge Francis Legodi. The judge departed on the eve of the public hearings next week and his sudden exit raised serious doubts about the credibility of the arms commission.

The commission has been plagued by controversy since being set up in 2011 by President Jacob Zuma, whose hand was forced by litigation from former banker Terry Crawford-Browne. It has not been helped by the fact Zuma is among the ANC's high-ranking members who were implicated with others in the corruption scandal surrounding the arms deal, which is estimated to have cost South Africa between R40-billion to R70-billion.

The release of Painting's statement adds considerable weight to the debate around the Arms Procurement Commission, as it echoed the concerns of Mokgale Norman Moabi, a former senior researcher at the commission who quit his post in January. 

With a solid professional record behind him as both a former president of the Law Society in the Northern Provinces and former acting judge in the North Gauteng High Court, Moabi lashed out in his resignation letter, claiming the commission chairperson, Judge Willie Seriti, had a "second agenda" and was running a covert operation. Moabi went back into private practice after resigning from the commission.

Painting's role at the commission was pivotal as she accompanied Seriti and the commission's head of legal research, Fanyane Moses Mdumbe, on fact-finding trips to the United Kingdom and Germany last year. Mdumbe was named in Moabi's resignation letter as the only staff member Seriti entrusted documents and evidence to at the commission.

On the overseas trips, the small team met with the prosecuting authorities who investigated corruption allegations against foreign companies allegedly involved in bribing South African officials and others in the arms deal scandal. 

During the trip to Germany, the M&G  previously revealed Seriti took along his wife as one of the "three delegates" accompanying him, during which they stayed in lavish hotels. The commission at the time said Seriti paid for his wife's trip, but confirmed she travelled in the vehicles booked for the team.

The trips to London and Germany yielded little to enlighten the commission, as previous attempts by foreign agencies to co-operate with South Africa had evidently been blocked by former department of justice director general Menzi Simelane. The team came back empty-handed.

Since quitting the commission, Painting has been looking for a job as an attorney, and it has not proved a simple task.

"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," said Painting in her statement. "I immensely respect Judge Legodi and his decision to leave. One wonders how much credibility is left at the commission. Taxpayers are funding the commission and it should be honest about seeking an extension. Ethics and integrity should guide any process. Without these key values, no equitable outcome is likely."

'Happy with my work'
Before she joined the commission, Painting was a legal researcher for the judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal, which is where she met Seriti.

"He was happy with my work at the Supreme Court of Appeal and asked me to accompany him to the commission," said Painting. "I agreed and was seconded [by the justice department]."

Painting was still employed by the justice department when she finally quit the commission in March.

"I reported my concerns [about the commission] to the director general but lost faith in the department when no response was forthcoming and felt it best to part ways," said Painting. "It also wasn't feasible to relocate back to Bloemfontein at my own cost and take a significant cut in salary."

Painting said she had sought legal advice before making her statement about the goings-on at the commission public."In making this statement, I have taken legal advice, and I have been advised that I should not elaborate any further," she said.

While Legodi is expected to go quietly and not reveal publicly his reasons for quitting his post, the timing of his resignation speaks louder than words.

Legodi is still employed by the justice department and he told his colleagues he would be returning to resume work at the North Gauteng High Court. 

Immensely popular with staff at the commission, Legodi's departure has come as a blow to many of them, who are now thoroughly demoralised, said sources familiar with events.

Arms deal whistleblowers are now looking into whether the commission can legally proceed without all the three appointed commissioners. Legodi was appointed by President Jacob Zuma, along with with Free State Judge President Hendrick Musi, to assist Seriti.

This week, Moabi told the M&G he "commended" Legodi for listening to his conscience and quitting his post.

"I commend the judge for having listened to his conscience and subsequently leaving the commission," said Moabi. "People should be very wary and watch what unfolds at the commission, if it proceeds. Particularly if any evidence will be heard in camera, for alleged security related issues in the interest of the state."

Moabi declined to elaborate on why he believed any aspect of the public hearings would be heard in camera. The Arms Procurement Commission spokesperson William Baloyi refused to comment on Painting's statement. The public hearings are proceeding on Monday, as planned, despite Legodi's exit, said Baloyi.

When asked whether the commission was legally allowed to proceed without three commissioners, which had been stipulated in the proclamation on the commission, Baloyi said they were waiting for advice from the Presidency. Asked whether any part of the public hearings would be held in camera, Baloyi said there had not yet been any applications to the commission for testimony to be heard in camera.

Concerns about whether the commission of inquiry would ever get to the truth of the corruption allegations in the 1999 arms deal have been voiced from the outset, especially by whisteblowers who have been named as witnesses in the public hearings. Many are beginning to doubt whether the political will exists to put them on the stand as the revised line-ups mean they will only appear at the public hearings next year.

Now, with three legal figures having quit their jobs at the arms deal commission of inquiry, and two who have publicly expressed their disquiet about how it is being run, the commission's viability is again under the spotlight.