Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-01-18 Reporter: Linda Ensor and Sapa Editor:

Committee to Consider Calling Ministers 

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-01-18
Reporter Linda Ensor and Sapa
Web Link

"They described the parliamentary group as incompetent and irresponsible"

CAPE TOWN Parliament's standing committee on public accounts is to meet on Monday for what promises to be a round of difficult discussions on the R43bn arms deal inquiry it initiated last year.

President Thabo Mbeki had been expected to announce his decision on the Heath investigating unit's participation in the inquiry yesterday. Earlier this week, Justice Minister Penuell Maduna recommended that the unit be excluded.

Presidential spokesman Nazeem Mahatey said, though, that Mbeki had requested more information from all agencies involved in the investigation, and was expected to brief cabinet members yesterday.

An announcement could be made today or tomorrow.

A vexed issue on the agenda when the public accounts committee meets on Monday will be whether to call Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Public Enterprises Minister Jeff Radebe and Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota to appear before it.

Committee chairman Gavin Woods believed they should be called and challenged on their view expressed at a media conference last Friday that the committee was incompetent and irresponsible and did not know what it was doing.

Woods said the ministers were "on thin ice" by saying that everything was above board in the arms deal.

However, inviting the ministers to appear before the committee would place its African National Congress (ANC) members in the difficult position of having to question and possibly challenge the party leadership.

There are reports of ANC committee members coming under strong pressure to back down on the inquiry.

Democratic Alliance spokesman on the committee Willem Odendaal said he believed it was necessary to call the ministers so that they could explain the information available to them.

"It is our duty to be as informed as possible. If it is necessary that we take on the executive, we will do so, but our aim is not to get into political fights. Our concern is the management of public money."

Woods will also support the idea of calling for independent forensic experts to assist the committee with developing the skills needed to evaluate the comprehensiveness of the final report of the inquiry.

"Because there is so much public concern on whether there will be a full investigation, we must be able to judge whether the investigation covers all the facts," he said.

Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille said she believed that by expressing faith in the integrity of the arms deal, the four ministers might have been in breach of section 181 of the constitution.

This requires all organs of state to assist and protect constitutionally created institutions such as the auditor-general.

With acknowledgement to Linda Ensor, Sapa and Business Day.