South Africans might have to make their peace with the fact that the full truth about the 1999 Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP), generally called the 'arms deal', may never be known. At the same time, the stakes have risen in the Democratic Alliance’s application to force the release of the so-called 'spy tapes', relating to President Jacob Zuma’s alleged involvement in the arms deal.
Veteran Inkatha Freedom Party member of Parliament and spokesperson on justice, Koos van der Merwe recently warned that there are signs that “the public (will) never get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the arms deal scandal”.
Van der Merwe’s statement came after the resignation letter of a senior investigator of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into allegations of corruption with regard to the SDPP was leaked in the media.
The investigator, Norman Moabi, in his letter to the commissions chairman, Judge Willi Seriti, alleged that the commission was not being transparent and was hiding a second agenda.
“I joined the commission to serve with integrity, dignity and dedication to truth. I cannot, in all conscience, pretend to be blind to what is actually going on at the commission,” Moabi wrote.
He also claims that:
- Seriti rules the commission with an iron fist
- Facts are manipulated or withheld from commissioners
- Contributions from commissioners who do not pursue the secondary agenda are frequently ignored.
It is also not the first time that the commission is experiencing a staff problem. In May last year the commission’s secretary, Mvuseni Ngubane, was found dead in the backseat of his car in KwaZulu Natal.
“Police said a suicide note was found near the body, but that parts of it were illegible because of blood stains. It was not clear why Ngubane committed suicide. As secretary of the commission, he would have been responsible for managing its budget and for ensuring it had administrative support,” it was reported at the time.
The commission of inquiry into the SDPP was appointed by president Zuma in November 2011 after a date was set by the Constitutional Court for a hearing on the rejection by the Western Cape High Court of a request to direct the president to appoint an independent judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing in the arms deal or to require him to reconsider his refusal to do so.
Speculation at the time was that he did so on legal advice that the Constitutional Court ruling was likely to go against him.
The SDPP was originally investigated by the Scorpions and other investigating authorities, which led to the imprisonment of Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of having a generally corrupt relationship with Zuma.
Then the Scorpions’ investigation was suddenly dropped on the basis that a tape recording between former boss of the National Prosecuting Authority (NP) Bulelani Ngcuka and former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy allegedly showed that the case had been compromised.
Since the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the NPA had to hand the 'spy tapes' over to the DA, who wanted to examine them to find if there was any basis for the decision to drop the corruption investigation into Zuma, a deadline for the handing over of the tape was set for October last year.
Claiming that he received the tapes under a confidentiality agreement from the NPA, president Zuma’s lawyer and special adviser Michael Hulley (said to be the person in possession of the tapes) refused to hand over the tapes.
The DA then went back to court in November last year, this time to the North Gauteng High Court to compel Hulley to release the 'spy tapes' claiming he is in contempt of court for not doing so.
Experts are of the opinion that Hulley will find it difficult to argue that a confidentiality agreement should take preference over the constitution's specific stipulation of transparency in the legal process.
In light of the latest shadow cast over the integrity of an official inquiry into the SDPP process, the battle to get the 'spy tapes' into the open has taken on new significance. It might just be the difference between Mr van der Merwe’s fears about the truth and the SDPP saga coming true or not.