Publication: Defence Systems Daily Issued: Date: 2001-01-05 Reporter: Leon Engelbrecht Editor:

The Probe into South Africa's R43-Billion Arms Deal Hits Controversy Itself

Publication  Defence Systems Daily
Date 2001-01-05
Reporter Leon Engelbrecht
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A multi-agency anti-corruption probe into South Africa's R43-billion strategic rearmament programme has itself run afoul of controversy. While the rest of the country was enjoying its summer holiday, Members of Parliament in favour of the probe were trading shots with government officials who had seemingly suddenly developed cold feet. 

At the heart of the dispute was another controversy, namely the role Judge Willem Heath's special investigative unit was to play. The unit is meant to investigate allegations of corruption in terms of Presidential Proclamation and recover stolen or unlawfully gained money and assets. The judge has long been a thorn in the side of the government, particularly the justice ministry, which has a cluster of units in the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions which it claims can do the same. Parliament adopted a unanimous resolution in November that Heath be included but the ministry is using a Constitutional Court decision as a reason to exclude him. 

The decision, clarifying the division between executive and judiciary, found Heath, a sitting High Court judge, could not head an executive agency. The decision was postponed for a year to allow Parliament to amend the law regulating Heath's unit. MP Patricia de Lille, who first raised allegations of corruption in connection with the deal, is threatening to go to the courts to force President Thabo Mbeki to issue the proclamation. 

The matter could, ironically, clarify the relationship between executive and legislature. Heath this week said he had evidence showing that a former cabinet minister and other senior officials had received "success money" after the awarding of the contracts.

With acknowledgement to Leon Engelbrecht and Defence Systems Daily.