Dissolve Seriti Commission - critics

Pretoria - The Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal must be dissolved, critic and former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein said on Thursday.

"We are distraught that the commission... has indicated that it will be yet another exercise that fails to take the opportunity to fully investigate the arms deal, without fear or favour, once and for all," he told reporters in Pretoria.

"We believe in the rule of law and primacy of the Constitution, but cannot co-operate with an institution that is [so] deeply compromised that its primary outcome will be to cover-up the facts."

Feinstein and fellow arms deal critics author Paul Holden and Hennie Van Vuuren were due to testify in the Seriti Commission of Inquiry but announced their withdrawal from all participation in the commission.

The three said the commission was no longer salvageable.

The commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 arms deal.

Feinstein called on society organisations and the public to join him, Holden, and Van Vuuren in calling for the commission's dissolution, for an independent criminal investigation to be conducted into the deal, and for criminal prosecution.

Feinstein said the arms deal continued to undermine the rule of law and weakened the country's state institutions.

"Former president Thabo Mbeki asked critics to 'show us the evidence'. We have evidence... which we have published repeatedly," he said.

During his testimony at the commission last month Mbeki insisted that for the past 16 years there had been no facts supporting allegations of mismanagement in the arms deal.

"I kept saying if anybody's got evidence, despite all these investigations taking place... where is this evidence? To this day there have been allegations aplenty but for 16 years no one has produced fact," he said at the time.

Feinstein said it was the commission's job to access all evidence available in the country and abroad, to assess its veracity, and to make it available to the public.

The critics have charged that the commission has not done this.

An opportunity missed

Van Vuuren said the decision to withdraw from the commission was not taken lightly and that the three critics believed the commission had missed its opportunity to support the struggle for transparency and accountability.

Holden said a letter informing the commission of their decision to withdraw was hand-delivered on Thursday.

Commission spokesperson William Baloyi could not be immediately reached for comment.

Holden, who is author of the book The Devil in the Detail about the arms deal, said there were four reasons for their decision.

The first was that Seriti had indicated he was not interested in hearing evidence from witnesses about documents they had written themselves.

The second reason for withdrawing was because the commission had failed to provide Holden, Feinstein, and Van Vuuren with access to relevant documents.

The third reason was that the commission had refused to admit key documents.

Holden said the fourth reason was that information from parties who resigned from the commission, and the commission's own public conduct, suggested it did not intend to properly investigate the matter.

Asked if there were any legal implications in withdrawing, Holden said the subpoenas sent to the three had expired.

Feinstein was expected to testify at the commission on 4 August, Holden on 5 August, and Van Vuuren the day after.

"We [are] no longer under subpoena to appear in the commission, [but] not sure if another will be issued at a later date."

Feinstein said that despite the three's decision to withdraw from the commission they would continue to pursue the matter.

"We believe that the best location to fight these battles is in a court of law... We are determined today to continue," he said.