Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-03-05 Reporter: Justine Gerardy Editor:

Activist wants SIU in Arms Probe

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-03-05

Justine Gerardy

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EAST LONDON -- Exclusion of the Heath Special Investigating Unit (SIU) from the arms probe "smacked of corruption" and diverted attention from the fact that South Africa cannot afford a multi-billion-rand arms deal, the Jubilee 2000 conference here heard yesterday. 

"Having sidelined Heath, the cover-up has become worse than the underlying problem," said Terry Crawford-Browne of the Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR) in an interview with the Daily Dispatch. 

"We should now take it back to basics that we have other priorities. We can't afford this deal." He said the government's touting of offsets as justification for the arms deal invited corruption. 

While the auditor-general had investigated the deal, it was limited to looking after the government's funding of contracts. In contrast, the SIU had the power to challenge civil contracts. 

Crawford-Browne said the issue also called into question the accountability of the executive to Parliament, which had decided that Heath be part of the investigation. Last week Democratic Alliance MPs walked out on a meeting of Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee (Scopa) after an ANC majority upheld that the committee had never intended to include the SIU in the probe. 

Crawford-Browne alleged that Scopa planned to rush the probe and imply that no evidence had been found. "The concern is that Heath has been sidelined and that the whistleblowers will not feel safe to reveal their evidence and support their allegations." 

Apart from issues raised in the auditor-general's report last year, a number of allegations have linked high-ranking government officials to kickbacks from the deal. "I would say that it is essential that Heath is brought back in, otherwise it looks to the world that there is a cover-up." 

With acknowledgment to Justine Gerardy and Daily Dispatch.