President Jacob Zuma took everyone by complete surprise on Thursday afternoon when he announced through Mac Maharaj that he will be appointing a commission of inquiry into the arms deal. The timing of the announcement could be due to the case before the Constitutional Court by Terry Crawford-Browne, but could also be due to internal ANC politics. The opposition and other interested parties greeted the news with cautious excitement anyway. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Why on earth? Why now?
That was the prevailing initial reaction to the news that the President would be appointing a commission of inquiry into the arms deal.
The Presidency made the announcement on Thursday afternoon.
“President Jacob Zuma has decided, in terms of section 84 (2) (f) of the Constitution, to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages, generally known as the “arms deal,” the statement said.
The President will announce the terms, composition and time frame of the commission soon. Justice minister Jeff Radebe has been instructed to begin setting the body up, according to the Presidency.
We soon got the answer as to why the Presidency suddenly rushed into this action. Thursday, 15 September was the last day for the Presidency to file papers responding to Terry Crawford-Browne’s application to the Constitutional Court. Crawford-Browne’s application was to try to force Zuma into appointing an independent commission of inquiry into the arms deal.
EWN said, “Arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Brown on Thursday said his lawyers received a statement from President Jacob Zuma conceding legal costs in his Constitutional Court challenge around the arms deal”.
Crawford-Browne’s court case against Zuma goes back to 2009, when the retired banker brought an application to the Western Cape High Court, seeking an order for the President to appoint an independent commission of inquiry into the arms deal, that the President’s decision not to do so be set aside and that the matter be referred back to him for determination. Zuma filed a number of objections, and finally Crawford-Browne’s application was whittled down to a challenge that the President had failed to fulfil his constitutional obligations in refusing to appoint the inquiry.
Zuma also objected to that too, saying that only the Constitutional Court has jurisdiction to hear such a case. There was more back and forth, but the matter finally appeared before highest court in the land.
The Constitutional Court was scheduled to hear that matter later this year.
The Democratic Alliance welcomed the inquiry. “The timing of the announcement is interesting,” the party said in a statement. “New information concerning alleged corruption in the arms deal is now emerging in Sweden and Germany. The Constitutional Court is set to rule on this matter in early November, and this raises the question of whether the President is pre-empting a possible court finding requiring him to appoint a commission of enquiry.”
The IFP’s Koos van der Merwe also welcomed the news, but chose to dwell on the timing conspiracy theory. “The arms procurement programme was initiated in the late 90s, and has since the beginning been under a cloud of suspicion of corruption and bribery,” he said. “The only logical inference that one can draw is that all the evidence may now have been destroyed, and that government can therefore finally proceed with such an inquiry.”
City of Cape Town mayor and leader of the Independent Democrats Patricia de Lille said, “I’m wondering why it took so long for the ANC-led government to see the light and acknowledge that there has been allegations and a lot of them are about wrongdoing in the arms deal.”
De Lille made a name for herself in Parliament for blowing the whistle on corruption in the arms deal.
She released a statement, calling for a retired judge to lead the commission of inquiry. “I appeal that the President appoints a retired judge of the Constitutional Court to do the investigations into the arms deal,” De Lille said in the statement. “In the terms of reference, I appeal that the commission must call on and make provision for all persons with information to give evidence in public.??“Persons who are allegedly involved should also be afforded the opportunity to state their case in the same way. This should be done so that all South
Africans can be informed about the truth around the arms deal,” De Lille said.
The mayor of Cape Town also said to EWN that the media should be allowed into the inquiry sessions in order to make the process as transparent as possible.
It is interesting to note that as far back as 2003 the ANC said that there was no need for an independent commission of inquiry, because the arms deal was squeaky clean. This was long before Schabir Shaik went to jail – and Zuma nearly followed him there – because of corruption related to said arms deal.
We still don’t know who is going to be on the commission of inquiry, or indeed how wide the commission’s investigative scope is going to be. That will almost certainly come into focus in the coming days. DM
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