Publication: Sunday Independent Issued: Date: 2000-11-19 Reporter: John Matisonn Editor:

It's All Systems Go for Arms Probe

Publication  Sunday Independent
Date 2000-11-19
Reporter John Matisonn
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The parliamentary committee assure public that despite fears that investigations of the controversial procurement would be subverted, the multipronged process is now 'irreversible'.

It's all systems go for the wide-ranging investigation into the R43 billion arms deal and nothing can stop it, says Dr Gavin Woods, Inkatha Freedom Party MP and chairperson of the multiparty parliamentary committee overseeing the investigation. Woods yesterday said he wanted to reassure the public that the investigation process was now "irreversible", a statement he felt was necessary because of speculation this week that there could be initiatives to block the investigation. "The four investigative agencies met on Thursday," Woods said. 

"By all accounts it was a positive meeting and we can now be confident that they are off down the road." Woods, chairperson of the committee on public accounts, said his confidence came from the composition of the investigative bodies, including the auditor-general, the public protector, the Independent Directorate of Serious Economic Offences and the Heath commission. It also came from a range of checks and balances that had been put in place that would ensure a degree of transparency through report-backs to the committee, and the committee's obligation to account to parliament for the degree of roughness of the investigation. 

Woods has acquired the use of international experts who will be told what issues need investigating so that they can draw up a profile of what the investigation should entail. Security will be maintained by not giving the international experts the names of the people or companies being investigated. The committee will be able to question the investigation units about whether all the steps recommended by the international experts had been taken. The committee head said he had found out inadvertently that a meeting of ANC members of the committee was called at Tuynhuys last week. 

"I thought it tactless and inappropriate when so many people are looking to see that the investigation is independent, to try to have a secret meeting on the work of a parliamentary committee," he said. Woods said nobody had told him what had happened at the meeting but he did not detect any holding back by any member of the committee on the investigation afterwards. 

"If I were the government I would be trying to portray as much distance as possible to avoid giving rise to suspicion," he said. The need for reassurance arose because of speculation late in the week that the executive wanted the investigation restricted to the primary contracts and not the subcontracts, which the auditor-general had asked to have investigated further. 

He said that there was also speculation that some of the investigative agencies might try to marginalise Judge Heath, because his commission might be thought to be the most independent of the four bodies. The third issue that had raised questions about the investigation, Woods said, was that the investigating bodies would run out of funding to continue the process, given the large scale of investigation required. ANC MPs contacted about the meeting at Tuynhuys either declined to confirm the meeting took place or failed to return phone calls. Joel Netshitenzhe, the chief government spokesperson, said he was unaware of such a meeting. He said if it was an ANC matter, he would not be aware of it. 

With acknowledgement to John Matisonn and the Sunday Independent.