30 civil society organisations call for an end to Seriti Commission

More than 30 local social justice organisations have issued a joint call for real arms deal accountability. Read our statement below:

The 1999 arms deal represents up to R70-billion that should have been spent on housing, education, health and South Africa’s other pressing social needs.

The arms deal corrupted our politics, weakened state institutions, and undermined our democracy. And despite mounting evidence of corruption, there has never been a full and transparent investigation. The politicians, public servants, middlemen, and large multinational arms companies involved have never been made to explain themselves to the South African people.

The Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the arms deal represented a crucial opportunity to uncover the truth, but it has become highly unlikely that the commission will fulfil its mandate.

We, the undersigned organisations, join the call for the commission to be dissolved.

Our concerns come from the following difficulties:

1. Refusal to allow access to documents:
The commission has refused to make huge amounts of evidence public. This includes thousands of documents from the official investigations of corruption by South African law enforcement,  which the commission does not even appear to be using to inform or guide its own work. (A summary of evidence that the commission has not released is here.)

2. Refusal to admit documents”
The commission has declared some of the most crucial documents pointing to corruption to be “inadmissible”. This includes a report prepared by a law firm for one of the arms companies, which details its own role in corruption and bribery in the arms deal. (The report, known as the Debevoise & Plimpton report, is available at www.armsdealfacts.com/evidence-of-corruption)

3. Rulings that have hamstrung independent witnesses:
The commission has made a ruling that prevents witnesses from presenting secondary evidence; witnesses may only speak to documents that they have authored. Witnesses are also precluded from referring to any information that is not within their own personal knowledge. This means that only those with direct personal knowledge of corruption in the arms deal – effectively those who were party to it – would be in a position to give evidence of that corruption. (Read the witnesses’ statement here.)

4. Failure to call witnesses:
The commission has failed to call witnesses from the arms companies, from the list of known or suspected middlemen, or from any of the foreign law enforcement agencies that have investigated parts of the arms deal. Only two people of the dozens who have been directly implicated in impropriety have been called to testify. Only one member of the official law enforcement investigations, which were later dismantled, is due to testify.

5. Failure to gain the public’s trust:
Since January 2013 there have been at least six senior resignations from the commission staff, at least four of whom resigned in protest at the commission’s conduct. In August 2014, two senior evidence leaders resigned from the commission, saying its approach “nullifies the very purpose for which the commission was set up”.

For these reasons, we have lost faith in the Seriti Commission’s capacity to reveal the truth behind the arms deal. It has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

We therefore add our voice to these demands:

  • Dissolve the Arms Procurement Commission.
  • Launch a full and transparent criminal investigation.
  • Prosecute all implicated in wrongdoing.

We note that the commission has issued new subpoenas to whistleblowers Hennie van Vuuren, Andrew Feinstein and Paul Holden, who have withdrawn from the commission due to its conduct. This would force them to participate under conditions that are manifestly unfair and one-sided.

We will not give up the fight for arms deal truth and justice!

Endorsing organisations:
Further organisational endorsements can be emailed to support@r2k.org.za.

1.    Corruption Watch
2.    Lawyers for Human Rights
3.    Right2Know Campaign
4.    Section27
5.    Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)
6.    South African History Archive (SAHA)
7.    Cooperative and Policy Alternative Center (COPAC)
8.    Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC)
9.    South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA)
10.    Ndifuna Ukwazi
11.    Equal Education
12.    Afesis-corplan
13.    Democracy from Below
14.    Embrace Dignity
15.    350.org Africa-Arab
16.    Social Justice Coalition
17.    Gun Free SA
18.    Treatment Action Campaign
19.    Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC)
20.    Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
21.    Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC)
22.    Claremont Main Road Mosque Board of Governors
23.    Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement
24.    Khulumani Support Group
25.    Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI)
26.    Zambezi FoX (Freedom of Expression)
27.    Reparations for Africa
28.    Centre for Applied Legal Studies
29.    Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
30.    Isiseko Literacy Project
31.    Earthlife Africa Cape Town
32.   Awethu: A People’s Platform for Social Justice
(As at 29 September)

International support:
1.    Campaign Against Arms Trade (UK)
2.    Diakonia Sweden
3.    EG Justice
4.    International Peace Bureau
5.    NOVACT International Institute for Nonviolent Action
6.    Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS)
7.    The Corner House, UK
8.    World Peace Foundation