The Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the 1999 arms deal hit back at its detractors on Thursday, warning that insults against it were “criminal”.
Commission spokesman William Baloyi said in a statement: “The Commission wishes to caution members of the public and interested parties that it is a criminal offence to, inter alia, disparage or insult the Commission or its members”.
This was after over 30 organisations signed a petition in support of the Right2Know Campaign’s call to dissolve the commission. They said the commission had refused to make large amounts of evidence public; that certain crucial documents that pointed to corruption had been declared inadmissible; and that the commission had failed to gain the public’s trust after six senior commission staff members resigned.
Baloyi hit back at these claims, saying the commission wished to put the record straight amidst “misinformation”. He alleged that the campaign against the commission was linked to the withdrawal of witnesses and commission critics, former African National Congress MP Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren.
On their withdrawal from the commission last month, they said they could no longer co-operate with an institution that “is [so] deeply compromised that its primary outcome will be to cover up”. Baloyi said Feinstein had indicated in a radio interview that they would campaign for the dissolution of the inquiry.
“And it cannot be a coincidence that the latest picketing takes place shortly after Mr Hennie van Vuuren was served with a subpoena (on 15th September 2014) to appear before the Commission in October.”
He described those who picketed for the commission to be disbanded and badmouthed it as “mere foot soldiers” with little understanding of what was happening in the inquiry.
Feinstein, Holden and Van Vuuren he said had withdrawn because the commission would not yield to their request for documents so that they could conduct their own investigations into the same issues the commission was appointed to probe.
“This deadlock is fully canvassed in the correspondence exchanged between the commission and their lawyers and it will be inappropriate for the Commission to elaborate thereon in this statement.
“The commission has thus far been extremely reluctant to invoke the powers it has in terms of the regulations to initiate criminal proceedings and other legal measures at its disposal against people who maliciously vilify it or its chairperson but it may be forced to do so if the disparaging and insults persist”.
The commission trusted this would not be necessary, and that people could continue to criticise the inquiry and its work “where necessary… and thus keep us on our toes”. SAPA