Dear Corruption Watch
What do you think of the judicial commission of enquiry into the arms deal? Is it likely to uncover the corruption that occurred during the arms deal, or is it just another way for those who benefited to cover it up?
Dear Interested observer
At the level of principle, the President’s establishment of the commission is to be welcomed. The arms deal has been shrouded in allegations of the most serious corruption almost from the moment it was concluded. Many of those allegations were made against senior members of the ruling party. President Zuma is one of those potentially implicated.
Corruption Watch believes that until the allegations are properly and openly interrogated, and the truth becomes known about the circumstances of the arms deal, the people who benefited and how, we will not be able to address the problems that it has caused and the lack of confidence in our government for us to be able to move forward as a country.
In our view, it is probable that the corruption that dogged the arms deal was made possible by insufficient procurement controls and enforcement of the criminal law. Addressing these problems is not simply a matter of rooting out those “bad apples” who benefited in the hope that those that remain will not be corruptible.
Corruption is a systemic problem, and it must be addressed both at the individual and the systemic level. In order to address the structural and systemic challenges, and in order to take appropriate legal action against individuals who benefited, it is essential for South Africa to have a transparent and rigorous enquiry into the circumstances of the deal.
The commission is therefore a good idea in principle. However, at the level of practice, we have grave concerns about whether the commission will be able to achieve these purposes. There are a number of factors that give rise to significant concern on this score:
• In January, a senior researcher resigned from the commission, claiming that the commission’s chair, Judge Seriti of the Supreme Court of Appeal, had a “second agenda”;
• In February another legal researcher resigned, reportedly saying she was doing so in order to retain her integrity;
• Last week, one of the commissioners, Judge Francis Legodi, resigned from the commission, without giving reasons. The media quoted sources close to the process saying that Legodi was unhappy with the secrecy surrounding the workings of the Commission and Judge Seriti’s management style; and
• The commission appears to have expended its allocated R40m budget, even before the hearings have begun. The commission reportedly placed two advocates on retainer, despite the fact that it is not yet facing any litigation.
These difficulties have raised questions about the legitimacy of the commission. When it comes to enquiries into allegations of corruption, transparency and accountability are absolutely vital. Secrecy and confidentiality allows corruption to flourish and be swept under the carpet.
The maxim that justice must both be done and be seen to be done is especially true in this context. If there is no public confidence in the commission’s workings and findings, it will not be able to clear the air, whatever its findings.
A commission that is not seen to be credible will simply be a waste of money, since it will be seen as a whitewashing exercise. In fact, a commission that lacks credibility may be worse than a waste of money. It may set us back, since it distracts us from taking other effective measures to combat corruption, while creating the (false) impression that steps are being taken to address corruption.
So while the commission is a good idea in principle, if it is not properly executed it may harm the fight against corruption. We hope that the commission will be able to overcome the difficulties it has already encountered and become the transparent, rigorous, and credible enquiry South Africa so desperately needs it to be.