Anger Grows as Heath Set for Arms Probe Ban
|Reporter||Troye Lund, Andre Koopman, Sapa|
Hope is fading that Judge Willem Heath will be included in the multi-agency probe into South Africa's R43-billion arms acquisition package, even though parliament's public accounts committee has warned the investigation will not be complete without the Heath special investigating unit.
This follows an antagonistic relationship between the government and Heath's unit since its inception in 1997.
Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane has appealed to President Thabo Mbeki to put the country and its future first by implementing parliament's recommendation that the deal be properly investigated.
'The downward, slippery road to becoming a banana republic'
The archbishop said that ever since the arms procurement deal was announced, the church had consistently called for transparency, public debate and a full public judicial investigation.
"We call on the government to honour the recommendations of parliament without delay. A failure to do so would pose a very serious threat to the country's fragile democracy," he said.
He added that one of the constitutional functions of parliament was to oversee the executive.
"Were the executive to override parliament and set up its own terms of reference for this investigation, as the apartheid government used to do, South Africa would enter into the downward, slippery road to becoming a banana republic."
On the eve of the government's decision on whether to include Judge Heath in the investigation, the ANC has made it clear that it is pushing for him to be excluded.
'If there is nothing to hide, why not let Heath be part of the investigation...'
Speaking after the ANC's four-day lekgotla, which ended on Sunday, spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama reiterated the party's opposition to Judge Heath and questioned his objectivity by accusing him of "hobnobbing with other political parties".
"The trust and confidence given to him was put to the test. He sees himself as not being accountable to government."
Justice Minister Penuell Maduna, who is one of many ministers to have clashed with and criticised Heath, was expected to announce his advice to President Mbeki about the Heath unit's inclusion or exclusion on Monday.
Mbeki, who has also questioned the Heath unit's objectivity in the past, will make his decision public at a later stage.
Reacting to the ANC's stance, Democratic Alliance spokesperson Reanette Taljaard said: "This raises interesting questions and implies that only investigating agencies who hobnob with the right people are acceptable to the ANC. It raises serious questions about the independence of the investigation."
Pan Africanist Congress chief whip Patricia de Lille, who was instrumental in raising the corruption allegations, said: "The question is simple. If there is nothing to hide, why not let Heath be part of the investigation along with the other agencies?"
De Lille handed documents to the Heath unit in November 1999 relating to the alleged corruption as well as details about ANC politicians who allegedly took kickbacks from arms consortiums. In October last year, the unit formally applied for a proclamation to investigate the deal.
Parliament's public accounts committee recommended the Heath unit be one of four agencies to probe the arms deal.
The other proposed investigating agencies are the public protector, the auditor-general and the national directorate of public prosecutions.
With acknowledgment to Troye Lund, Andre Koopman, Sapa and Independent Online.