Heath Arms Probe Recommendation Almost Ready - Government
Johannesburg (Sapa) - The paperwork for the justice ministry's recommendation on whether Judge Willem Heath should probe the R43 billion arms deal was nearly ready, ministry spokesman Paul Setsetse said on Thursday.
He said that Justice Minister Penuell Maduna would send his advice to President Thabo Mbeki shortly. "We are hoping that in the next few days the announcement will be made," Setsetse said. His statements came after ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama accused Heath of blackmailing the government over the probe, and said that the ANC would "mobilise" against his special investigating unit's involvement.
Parliament has recommended that the unit be one of four agencies to probe the deal, but the government is dragging its feet on issuing the proclamation needed for the unit to go into action. INet-Bridge reported that in a radio discussion on Thursday morning, Ngonyama said that Heath had allowed himself to be "completely compromised" by his links with Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille and other political parties.
"The view of the ANC is that we don't want Heath to be part of this probe. He has used the information he has obtained to lambaste the government and blackmail the government by saying that unless you put me to work, there is a cover up," Ngonyama said.
"Why must the government feel paralysed by the Patricia de Lilles and Douglas Gibsons of this world, hobnobbing with Judge Heath?" Asked if the ANC's position could be taken to mean Heath would not be part of the eventual probe, Ngonyama replied: "I'm not saying that, but we will mobilise and campaign for this." Speaking from his East London office, Heath told Sapa that he rejected both the blackmail and "hobnobbing" claims. "There's no need for me to dispute that. Everybody knows I have not been involved in that," he said. "I've most definitely not been playing games with political parties." Nor did he see any need for ANC mobilisation against the unit.
The unit's motivation for the investigation had been made on the basis of the facts presented to it, and at the request of a wide variety of people and institutions. "It's for the president to make a decision. We don't pose a threat to anyone on the basis of politics," he said.
He believed it was essential for the unit to be involved if all aspects of the matter were to be thoroughly investigated. De Lille first alluded to corruption in the R43 billion arms deal in 1999 when she told Parliament that she had information regarding ANC politicians receiving kickbacks from foreign arms consortiums, then passed the information onto Heath.
De Lille told Sapa on Thursday that she rejected any suggestion she was "hobnobbing" with Heath. "The only thing the judge and myself have got in common is that we want to see corruption eradicated everywhere it rears its ugly head in South Africa," she said.
It was untrue that Heath was blackmailing the government, she said. He had merely defended himself against attacks by people like National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka. Ngonyama's comments showed it was clear that the ANC was unable to distinguish between government and party. "The million dollar question is, who is hiding what? Who is protecting who? If there's nothing to hide, why not let them continue the investigation, all four agencies?" she asked.
Ngonyama said that when Heath was appointed, it was not a given that he would work on each and every project. "We reject in the strongest possible terms that the work be given to Judge Heath," he said, adding that there are a number of possible organisations equally well-equipped to investigate the matter - including the Public Protector's office and the Auditor General's office.
Speaking earlier on the same radio discussion as Ngonyama, De Lille dismissed his contention, saying Heath's unit was the only body with powers wide enough to scrutinise the issue to the fullest extent. "Heath's unit is the only agency that can apply for the audit and scrutinise some of the agreements in this case and how they're enforced.
"What has the ANC got to be scared of? If we are to get to the bottom of these allegations, [excluding] Heath makes me suspicious that people in high places are corruptly involved." Inkatha spokesman Musa Zondi said that not including Heath would have international repercussions as it would appear as if there was something unacceptable going on and being covered up.
Also on Thursday, United Democratic Movement member of Parliament's public accounts committee, Gerhard Koornhof faxed a letter to Maduna appealing to him not to exclude the unit. He said the committee had good reasons to choose the four-unit task team, and the decision had been supported by all parties. "Please respect this democratic decision . . . which will defuse any speculation of undue interference by the executive and government," he said.
With acknowledgement to Sapa and Woza.