On the 21st of April 2016, President Jacob Zuma announced the release of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (the ‘Arms Deal’). During the same announcement, President Zuma provided a summary of the findings of the Commission.
The Commission found that there was nothing wrong with the Arms Deal in its conception, execution or economic impact, despite considerable evidence in the public domain to the contrary. Most importantly, it found that there was no evidence that any of the contracts in the Arms Deal were tainted by evidence of corruption, fraud or irregularity.
We are disappointed, but hardly surprised, that the Commission has come to these findings, which are tantamount to a cover-up. Indeed, it was abundantly clear during the work of the Commission that it was ill-disposed towards undertaking a full, meaningful and unbiased investigation into the Arms Deal. It routinely failed to either admit or interrogate any evidence of wrongdoing in relation to the Deal.
In August 2014, we withdrew from the Commission of Inquiry in protest at the manner in which it was conducting its investigation. Our withdrawal and subsequent refusal to testify before the Commission in October 2014 was supported by over forty civil society organisations who shared our concerns. We identified four primary problems, which we believed indicated that the Commission was failing to investigate the Arms Deal fully, meaningfully and without favour. These concerns were:
1. During the life of the Commission, a number of employees resigned in protest at the manner in which it was conducting its work. In at least two cases, the employees stated that they were resigning because the Commission did not intend to investigate the Arms Deal. Rather, the Commission was pursuing a ‘second agenda’, namely, to discredit critics of the Arms Deal and find in favour of the State and arms companies’ version of events;
2. The Commission refused to admit vital documentary evidence of wrongdoing during the public hearings. One such document was the Debevoise & Plimpton Report, an internal audit of the arms company Ferrostaal, which received contracts in the Arms Deal. The Report indicated that Ferrostaal had made tens of millions of rands in payments to politically connected politicians and procurement officials. The report also quoted senior Ferrostaal employees as stating that the offset program was merely a conduit for bribes. In their resignation from the Commission, evidence leaders Advocates Barry Skinner and Carol Sibiya specifically pointed out that refusing to admit the Report ‘nullifies the very purposes for which the Commission was set up.’
3. The Commission refused to allow critical witnesses to testify about documents that they had not written, or events to which they were not personally witness. One major consequence of this is that the only people who could testify to corruption in the Arms Deal were those who paid or received bribes.
4. The Commission failed to provide documents to which we were entitled under the terms of our subpoena, despite repeated requests. The Commission claimed that it was refusing to do so as we were undertaking a ‘fishing expedition.’ The failure of the Commission to provide us with the documents to which we were legally entitled was typical of the Commission’s attitude of sometimes open hostility to critical witnesses.
Despite the above concerns, we are pleased that the Commission Report is now public. We look forward to interrogating its contents in full, and intend to provide a detailed response to the material therein at the earliest opportunity.
In addition, we are seeking legal advice as to the legality of the Commission’s conduct and the viability of a legal review to have the Report set aside. An announcement on this process will be made in due course.
We believe that the report represents a massive missed opportunity at arriving at the truth. However this is not the end of the road in the struggle for truth justice and accountability of corruption in the arms deal.