Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-01-21 Reporter: Linda Ensor Editor:

Battle Lines Drawn Over Arms Probe 


Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-01-21
Reporter Linda Ensor
Web Link www.bday.co.za

Zuma attacks legitimacy of public accounts committee in launching the investigation

CAPE TOWN The battle lines between the executive and Parliament's public accounts committee have been drawn with Deputy President Jacob Zuma attacking the legitimacy of its action in launching a multi-agency probe into the R43bn arms probe.

African National Congress members on the committee will now be forced to choose between their role as members of the party and of the committee, sources said yesterday.

In a letter to committee chairman Gavin Woods also sent to relevant foreign governments and the principal contracting companies to the arms deal Zuma indicates a wish for government to take responsibility for the investigation out of the committee's hands and thereby exclude it from any oversight of its findings. Woods said that if this was what government intended it was "chilling".

The letter takes the core issue in dispute far beyond the involvement of the Heath special investigating unit in the probe by fundamentally questioning its necessity and legality. Zuma said the rules of Parliament did not give the committee competence over investigations of this nature.

Zuma quoted from a statement by National Assembly speaker Frene Ginwala saying "a committee of the national assembly has no authority to subcontract its work to any of these (investigating) bodies or require them to undertake any particular activity or to report to the committee".

The letter says that any action that Woods might have taken "to cause any investigative unit to carry out any investigation" is ultra vires and that steps would have to be taken to ensure that the committee and Woods respected the rule of law.

Woods disagreed with Zuma's interpretation saying the committee did not "subcontract" the work. The committee merely facilitated a meeting between the agencies and would scrutinise the final report of the inquiries. Woods, who fears his position as chairman is threatened, believed Parliament's rules did allow the committee to initiate investigations. Ginwala said Parliament was able only to refer matters to the auditor-general and the public protector, which were arms of the executive and not answerable to Parliament. She said Parliament would resist any attempt by the executive to sideline it from the investigation. She did not think initiating an investigation was subcontracting.

Zuma accuses the committee of having "seriously misdirected itself", and accuses it of working from the assumption that those involved are prone to corruption. No evidence was produced to back up these allegations, he said.

However, Woods said he did not doubt the need for the probe, and that "prima facie evidence exists for this". He will propose at today's committee meeting that government ministers who rejected the committee's findings appear before it to explain themselves.

Meanwhile, Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia De Lille plans to institute legal action soon to have Mbeki's decision to exclude the Heath unit declared invalid.

Judge Willem Heath yesterday denied ever seeing details of the arms deals, or those involved in the deal.

With acknowledgement to Linda Ensor and Business Day.