Baqwa "Panders to Government"
|Reporter||Bonile Ngqiyaza, Sapa|
State gets a chance to view crucial evidence in arms deal lest it affect military security'
PUBLIC Protector Selby Baqwa was yesterday accused of bending over backwards to accommodate the state in the arms deal probe after he allowed a postponement to give government a chance to view crucial evidence.
The public inquiry into SA's controversial arms deal was postponed for a third time yesterday, and has already gone past its original July deadline.
C²I² Systems MD Richard Young, who was to have testified yesterday, has reserved his right to sue government for between R100m and R200m for losing out on a contract dealing with the supply of corvettes in the R43bn arms deal.
Young's evidence is vital in that he is the only witness who has appeared before the inquiry who claims to have evidence of irregularity in the awarding of contracts.
Political parties warned yesterday that the handling of Young's appearance at the hearings could have a crucial bearing on the public's perceptions of the inquiry's integrity.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa called for Baqwa to resign as chairman of the investigation immediately. He made the call after an agreement was reached between Young's lawyers and Baqwa that Young should provide the defence ministry with his testimony. The ministry would then have to give its consent for Young to testify on issues that it is claimed could possibly affect military security.
Holomisa said: "The ministry of defence is the subject of an investigation itself."
The Democratic Alliance (DA) decried the fact that all argument for the postponement was heard behind closed doors, and called on Baqwa to adhere to the principles of transparency.
The DA said the public protector had to walk a tightrope in order to maintain public confidence in the credibility of the investigation.
DA spokesman Raenette Taljaard said: "The increasing lack of transparency, procedural inconsistency and frequent postponements are undermining confidence in the public phase of the investigation."
Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille criticised the postponement, saying the public protector and his assistants seemed to be "making the rules (up) as they go along".
"If the finalisation of the report depends on the finalisation of the hearing, then I definitely smell a rat. I think that we are going to wait for ever for that report," she said.
De Lille asked for the special investigating unit to be drawn into the probe as a matter of urgency.
Holomisa said yesterday's developments confirmed his party's earlier fears and reservations that Baqwa, and the other two agencies probing the arms deal, were "working to please their paymasters".
Said Holomisa: "We cannot reconcile his judgment and the decision to affect a potential witness like that by submitting his testimony to the defence minister, who will decide which things can be said in the investigation."
He said his party was also "extremely concerned" that the arms deal public hearings would continue despite Young's request to retain the right to sue government.
Young said yesterday that he had changed his mind about his initial intention to ask for a postponement of the hearings after being told that he had little chance of success. "We were ready to give evidence," he said.
With acknowledgment to Bonile Ngqiyaza, Sapa and Business Day.