ANC Steps Up Its Anti-Heath Vendetta
|Publication||Mail & Guardian|
THE government’s apparent determination to exclude the Heath Special Investigations Unit from a probe into its R43bn arms deal has unleashed a wave of criticism - and intensified allegations of corrupt practice in the awarding of the contracts.
Pan African Congress (PAC) MP Patricia de Lille, who gave the Heath unit a series of documents relating to the affair, has threatened to take legal action against President Mbeki if corruption-busting judge Willem Heath is taken off the panel, while the chairman of Parliament's public accounts committee, Gavin Woods, says he is "both concerned and alarmed" at the government's move.
Woods says there are a number of discrepancies in the reasons given by Justice Minister Penuell Maduna for his recommendation to President Mbeki that Heath not take part in the probe. Maduna is known to be one of Heath's harshest critics.
The justice minister's call is directly opposed to Woods' committee, which recommended last year that the Heath unit and three other agencies - the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Auditor General and the Public Protector - carry out the investigation.
Woods said one of the aspects that alarmed him most was Maduna's implication that his formal request as committee chairman to the president in December last year, for a proclamation clearing the way for Judge Willem Heath's involvement, did not reflect the wishes of Parliament.
He said the committee report, adopted by Parliament, indicated quite clearly the wish that Heath be involved. Mbeki is supposed to make a decision on the matter later this week.
The greatest discrepancy was Maduna's statement that to refer new matters to the unit would be contrary to the spirit of a recent judgment on the constitutionality of Heath's position as unit head. The Constitutional Court has given a year's grace for the appointment of a head that is not a judge.
Woods also rejected Maduna's statement that there was no evidence of unlawful appropriation of public funds or assets in the arms deal. The parliament's accounts committee found irregularities in the granting of tenders, and questioned the inflated price of the arms deal.
Political commentators and religious leaders have also called on authorities to allow Heath to be involved in the probe.
Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said the failure to include Heath would pose a serious threat to the country's "fragile democracy."
The ANC has publicly opposed Heath's involvement, accusing the judge of "hobnobbing with other political parties". Last week it held a press conference, at which several cabinet ministers insisted there had been no irregular practices surrounding the arms contracts.
With acknowledgement to AFP and the Mail & Guardian.