Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-01-29 Reporter: Editor:

De Lille Takes the Heath Saga to Court

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-01-29
Reporter Vuyo Mvoko
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CAPE TOWN Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille is to apply to the high court, possibly later this week, for a judicial review of President Thabo Mbeki's decision to bar the Heath unit from investigating the government's R43bn arms deal.

De Lille's lawyers wrote to Mbeki on Friday, requesting the president to provide all the information he used in his decision to exclude the Heath unit.

Although Mbeki's office has not yet responded to De Lille's request, spokesman Nazeem Mahatey said yesterday: "In terms of legislation, the president is not obliged to make available to anyone the documentation which he has perused before making his decision.

"All he has to do is provide reasons for his decision which he has already done."

De Lille said yesterday it was necessary for her to first ask the president for the information before she could make allegations that he did not apply his mind to all the information he had in hand, or that he may have incorrectly used his discretion.

In terms of common law a person has a right to go to court to get a review of any action taken by the executive or an organ of state, if there are sufficient grounds to do so.

Explaining his client's determination to pursue the matter while other opposition parties feel she does not have a strong case De Lille's lawyer Cecil Burgess said she had facts on her side.

The Heath unit has more powers at its disposal and is, in a sense, a court on its own.

Besides, it has invaluable experience in the type of work that needs to be undertaken in investigating the arms deal.

The public protector and the auditor-general, on the other hand, can detect and investigate, but then recommend a course of action for execution by other state agents.

Parallel to De Lille's intended move, the National Assembly's public accounts committee meets today to decide on a response to Deputy President Jacob Zuma's recent letter to its chairman, Inkatha Freedom Party MP Gavin Woods.

In the letter, also sent to governments of the countries involved in the arms deal, Zuma indicated his desire to take the impending investigation out of the watchdog committee's hands.

Zuma's letter had quoted a statement from the Speaker of the National Assembly, Frene Ginwala, saying a committee of the National Assembly had no authority to "subcontract" its work to such investigating units as Heath's.

The committee, Woods said yesterday, would also indicate to Ginwala that it had accepted her request to address it, even if it is today. Ginwala apparently wants to set the record straight on the matter.

With acknowledgement to Vuyo Mvoko and Business Day.