Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2001-01-21 Reporter: Andre Koopman Editor:

Committee Meets to Discuss Heath's Exclusion

Publication  Cape Times
Date 2001-01-21
Reporter Andre Koopman
Web Link

Decisions taken at a landmark meeting on Monday of the select committee on public accounts, which has been at the heart of the controversy over the R43-billion arms deal, could determine whether the public faces a crisis of confidence in the government's will to deal with corruption.

Parliamentary committees resume their work on Monday.

The meeting of the public accounts committee is likely to determine whether it will assert its independence and critical role or be cowed by pressures from the executive over its role in pushing for a rigorous investigation of the arms deal.

The public accounts committee scrutinised the deal and recommended that it be investigated.

Judge Heath would not be part of the arms probe

It also recommended that the Special Investigating Unit, headed by Judge Willem Heath, be included in the multi-agency probe.

Its chairperson, Gavin Woods (Inkatha Freeedom Party), has faced a harrowing few months since the committee made its recommendations in November. He has received death threats and on Friday and said he had received a hostile letter from deputy president Jacob Zuma.

This was during a day of high drama in which director-general in the presidency Frank Chikane announced on national television that Judge Heath would not be part of the arms probe as the Constitutional Court had directed that he be relieved of his duties.

This was followed by a statement from President Thabo Mbeki in which he, also on national TV, outlined reasons for his decision on Judge Heath.

Meanwhile, PAC chief whip Patricia de Lille, who took a leading role in making public the allegations of corruption in the arms deal, has also faced death threats and fears for the safety of her family.

'Some quarters have expressed grave disappointment in the role of the speaker'

She has vowed to take the government to court to test the constitutionality of the government's refusal to include Judge Heath in the arms probe.

While it seems apparent that the country is not facing a constitutional crisis because of executive's decision not to accept the public accounts committee's recommendation about the Judge Heath's unit, the country faces a fast-developing crisis of public confidence in government's often-stated intention to get rid of corruption.

Despite the merits of the case and his grandstanding Judge Heath has a reputation of being independent and competent.

The public accounts committee's meeting on Monday and those in the weeks to follow will determine whether parliament will assert its independence and play a decisive role in probing the deal or whether it will be cowed by an increasingly powerful executive.

Developments in this session will determine the role of parliament in our democracy.

Political analysts believe that African National Congress members of the public accounts committee, who took the lead in rigorously questioning senior state officials and defence officials about the arms deal, have become remarkably reticent.

During the Christmas break they faced "inordinate pressure", according to a senior ANC member.

Meanwhile, some quarters have expressed grave disappointment in the role of the speaker of the national assembly Frene Ginwala, who has a reputation as a champion for parliament, in the controversy.

She has come in for a full-scale attack from the Democratic Alliance for her perceived weakness in protecting the institution of parliament and its independence.

The DA was dismayed when the speaker was reported to have questioned whether parliament passed the resolution about Judge Heath. She had adopted a negative attitude by saying that the decision of parliament was not constitutionally binding, Gibson said.

Despite the heavyweights in the background pushing for an exhaustive probe, ANC members of the public accounts committee have been the public face of the move in parliament.

Ginwala's statements were significant as she was essentially leaving them to "hang in the wind", an senior ANC member said.

"It seems that she is leaving them exposed in the face of an increasingly powerful presidency," the member said.

Reacting to the DA's criticism that she had let parliament down, Ginwala said that according to the parliamentary law adviser the public accounts committee's report did "not amount to a recommendation to the executive to refer the matter - to the (Heath) unit".

Responding to developments over the weekend and the president's letter to Judge Heath, Raenette Taljaard of the DA said the public accounts committee must ensure that it continued with a focused probe, despite the barriers the presidency was placing in its way by excluding Judge Heath's unit and by the scathing attack, included in a 12-page letter to Woods, on the public accounts committee.

With acknowledgement to Andre Koopman and Independent Online.