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Crawford-Browne wants end to arms commission ‘farce’

Crawford-Browne, who forced President Jacob Zuma's hand by taking him to court to pressure for an investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding South Africa's R70-billion arms deal, believes the arms procurement commission has become a "farce".

Crawford-Browne has requested public protector advocate Thuli Madonsela to intervene and ask Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Zuma to terminate the commission when its mandate expires in November.

"The Seriti commission has degenerated into a farce, and a gross waste of public money," he said.

Crawford-Browne has not been impressed with the evidence given by South African Navy and Air Force top brass at the commission.

Rear-Admiral Philip Schoultz had blamed the reality that the navy lacked skilled personnel to repair or maintain the warships on poaching by the private sector, he said.

"Schoultz in the process inadvertently confirmed what the auditor general had informed Parliament back in 2000, namely that no consideration was given to the personnel requirements for the arms deal acquisitions," said Crawford-Browne. "Now, General [John] Bayne [of the South African Air Force] contradicts the minister of defence and veteran affairs that almost half of the BAE/Saab Gripen fighter aircraft have been mothballed because the SAAF has too few pilots to fly them."

In his letter to Madonsela, Crawford-Browne said Radebe had promised "an open and transparent process" when he announced the terms of reference of the arms procurement commission.

Intervention was needed
One of the commission's senior investigators, Norman Moabi, resigned in January this year, alleging that Judge Willie Seriti [chairperson of the commission] has a "second agenda" to silence the Terry Crawford-Brownes of this world", and that the commission was "severely flawed by administrative malpractices", he wrote.

"Then Ms Kate Painting [attorney and former principal legal researcher] also resigned and later cited similar concerns, and this was followed by the resignation of Judge Francis Legodi [commissioner]. Advocate Tayob Aboobaker SC [commission evidence leader] was pressured into withdrawing his resignation."

It had taken the commission 21 months to begin its hearings, he said.

Crawford-Browne claimed the conduct of both Seriti and the commission had failed the relevant requirements of the Constitution, and intervention was needed.

Moabi, a lawyer and a former acting judge from Pretoria, told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday, the testimony that had been put before the commission was not being tested under appropriate cross-examination. People like Crawford-Browne should have been funded at the state's expense to effectively test the testimony of the army chiefs, he said.

"For now there is no real investigation coming from anywhere, by way of cross-examination," he said.

Public scruitiny
The evidence leaders at the commission were also being hampered in dealing with the evidence of the army chiefs, and Moabi said the questions had to be asked: 

  • Did they inspect the procured arms physically?
  • Did they check the records of their maintenance and operation?
  • Did they peruse every available document dealing with the procurements? The documents previously held by the Hawks? 
  • Did they conduct any investigations abroad on their own? If so, when?
  • Do they have any information to question whether it was necessary or not to secure the arms
  • Do they have independent military advisors to assist them in questioning the army chiefs?

"The above questions, if answered honestly, will indicate that the commission is not digging up the dirt and is just going through the motions at a huge price for the tax payer," said Moabi.

On top of these concerns, Moabi said, is that since some documents were classified and not open for public scruitiny, there was no knowing how at the end of the commission anyone can vouch for a satisfactory conclusion.

William Baloyi, spokesperson for the commission, expressed surprise that Crawford-Browne should propose the commission be shut down.

"The amazing thing is that it is the very same Terry Crawford-Browne who forced the president to appoint this commission in order to investigate among others the very same allegations that he has just repeated to you. Now he wants the investigations to be stopped!" said Baloyi.

Stimulate the economy
"He is earmarked to testify before this commission and should be told to await his turn when he will have ample opportunity to challenge the evidence that is currently being led before the commission and to put across his version." 

In his letter to Madonsela, Crawford-Browne pointed out that the commission was only appointed after he had taken Zuma to the Constitutional Court.

"President Jacob Zuma's legal counsel was unable to rebut the fact that there is a huge volume of evidence of corruption, and it was therefore irrational and unconstitutional for the president to continue to refuse to appoint a commission of inquiry."

It was recently revealed that evidence that was required by the commission had been left in two shipping containers at the Hawks' premises, he said.

"The evidence against BAE is alone said to amount to 460 boxes and 4.7-million computer pages," said Crawford-Browne. "In addition, there is evidence against the German Frigate and Submarine Consortia. The Hawks inherited all this evidence from the Scorpions."

The rationale for the arms deal was that R30-billion spent on warships and warplanes would generate R110-billion in offsets and create 65 000 jobs to stimulate the economy, he said. 

Crawford-Browne said an affordability study had warned Cabinet in August 1999 that the arms deal was a reckless proposition, which could lead the government to mounting economic, financial and fiscal difficulties, but such warnings were ignored.

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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