The commission’s public hearings were scheduled to begin on Monday, but were adjourned for two weeks after chairman Judge Willie Seriti granted a request by lawyers representing the Department of Defence to deal with the question of classified documents.
The Department of Defence also raised the question of whether they could continue with only two commissioners, following the resignation last week of Judge Francis Legodi from the commission headed by Seriti, citing confidential personal reasons.
Yesterday, Zuma opted not to replace Legodi.
The presidency said Zuma had reconstituted the commission and it now comprises Seriti as its chairman and Justice Thekiso Musi as a member. “The president remains confident the commission will successfully complete its work,” the presidency said.
The commission has seen a spate of resignations since it was appointed by Zuma in 2011 to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the arms deal.
Arms deal whistleblower Patricia de Lille said the commission’s credibility would be tainted if it failed to subpoena Zuma to give evidence.
“There can be no complete arms deal commission of inquiry without the president also appearing before it. He must come and give evidence,” she said.
De Lille, who is mayor of Cape Town, was a member of the Pan Africanist Congress in Parliament when she compiled the “De Lille dossier” exposing allegations of corruption in the arms deal. This saw the successful prosecution of former ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni and businessman Schabir Shaik.
Independent defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said that the allegations against Zuma inevitably cloud the credibility of the commission.
“As far as I am aware, there is only one allegation against President Zuma in this regard. That is, of course, unfortunate for the credibility of the commission, but the alternative would have been no commission or asking the president to resign, so this is something we have to live with,” he said.
“This matter has dragged on for so long and is casting such a pall over future defence acquisition projects that it is causing real damage to the defence force, the defence industry and, indirectly, the country.
“While I am not convinced this commission would have achieved much, if we are going to go through yet another inquiry into this matter it needs to be dealt with and finalised as soon as possible. So any delay is unfortunate.
“In so far as there was major corruption the delay also provides more time to bury actionable evidence, although I would have thought that anyone clever enough to have helped themselves to really large amounts would have covered themselves thoroughly by now,” he added.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it was seriously concerned by the costly length of time it was taking for the commission of inquiry to get down to investigating the deal.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said no stone must be left unturned to expose the whole truth about the arms deal.
“The innocent must be exonerated and the guilty punished for enriching themselves at the expense of the people who put their trust in them. But why could these documents not have been declassified before the commission convened?” he asked.
Craven added that the arms deal was initially estimated to cost R43 million, and is believed to have escalated to as much as R70 billion.
Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier said the commission should have been reconstituted before the public hearings commenced.
“That the commission’s public hearings had to be postponed, in part because it had not been reconstituted, damaged the credibility of the commission.
“The president may remain confident the commission will complete its work successfully. However, the commission seems to be geared to deal with a molehill, rather than a mountain, and is clearly struggling to get off the ground,” he said, adding that it was now imperative that Seriti begin clawing back credibility by ensuring that the public hearings begin on August 19.