The postponement of the first hearing of the Seriti Commission into malfeasance, irregularities and corruption in the notorious arms deals and the imaginary off-set deals that accompanied them back in 1999 is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Arms Procurement Commission, to give it its proper name, is clearly not ready to start. The masses of documents which necessarily are its lifeblood are not yet, despite the elapse of a year and a half, in apple pie order. They ought to be electronically marshalled in searchable format.
Instead they are in lever arch files, bundled according to some system whose logic is not known even to the evidence leaders whose brief is to prepare witnesses to testify. A faint and sometimes illegible number appears on some of the pages, on others it is absent. The numbering is not consecutive, so relocating a document once found can produce challenges. Manifestly, there is work to be done on marshalling the papers, many of which may prove to be irrelevant.
It is worth recalling how the commission came to be appointed. Indefatigable campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne took up the cudgels after an unsuccessful petition organised by the Social Justice Coalition in 2008 failed to persuade then President Motlanthe that a commission was needed. His successor, when faced with an order of court issued by the full Constitutional Court, rather than setting out his reasons for not appointing a commission, which would have involved traversing a few thousand pages of material placed before the court, chose instead to concede the claim and the Seriti commission was born.
Requiring the government to deal with the substance of the claims made by Crawford- Browne on their merits is essentially what the commission is tasked to do. Surprisingly, no attempt appears to have been made to get the official answer to the affidavits that were placed before the court.
An exercise in gathering documents, some of which may tend to obfuscate more than elucidate, has been embarked on and a great deal of travel to foreign climes, beyond the reach of a summons, to seek co-operation and information has been embarked on by the commission. Government departments have buried the commission in paper, a tactic often resorted to by those bent on making sure that the truth is obscured rather than revealed.