Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2001-03-21 Reporter: News24 Editor:

"Dubious Motives" for Heath Move

Publication  News24
Date 2001-03-21
Reporter News24
Web Link

Cape Town - A possible explanation for the exclusion of the Heath special investigation unit from the probe into the R43.8 billion arms deal, was that the unit fell "outside the immediate political sphere of influence" of ANC leadership in the government. 

And the Heath unit, as the "most independent" of the four proposed bodies to conduct the probe, could have disrupted proceedings if the deal had proved not to be in the best interests of the public, with huge foreign implications.  

These explosive remarks were made on Tuesday by, respectively, demoted ANC study-group leader in the standing committee for public accounts (Scopa) Andrew Feinstein, and Scopa chairperson Dr Gavin Woods of the IFP, during a talk they delivered at the University of the Western Cape Law Department.  

The objections raised by four cabinet ministers over Scopa's recommendations were "superficial" and based on "dubious motives", Woods noted. Feinstein emphasised that he was not commenting in his capacity as ANC member of parliament.  

Cabinet exerted 'fair amount of pressure'  

He said the executive authority (Cabinet) exerted "a fair amount of pressure" on Scopa ANC members over the committee's 14th report following its acceptance in Parliament in November last year. In the report, Scopa recommended an investigation into alleged irregularities into the arms deal.  

Feinstein added that the pressure on Scopa had been a particular result of the inclusion of the Heath unit in the probe. The other bodies, which have in the meantime started the investigation, are the Auditor-general, the Public Protector, and the Investigating Directorate into Serious Economic Offences.  

President Thabo Mbeki refused to issue a proclamation for the Heath unit to join the probe. Feinstein said he was proud of the fact that ANC Scopa members had resisted the pressure.  

'Nobody really knew the answer'  

Responding to a question from Professor Jeremy Sarkin of the university as to why the government had opposed the inclusion of the Heath unit, Woods responded that "nobody really knew the answer". He cited the "most popular" explanation as being that the government did not want a "thorough probe" into the arms deal. Cabinet criticism of the 14th Scopa report was directed at the points where the report recommended a probe.

He described the attack launched in January by four cabinet ministers as an "expensive sideshow", distracting attention from the real issue.  

Scopa took a well-considered decision by including the four agencies. The ANC leadership's interpretation of the 14th report as not being well-considered was proved wrong by former president Nelson Mandela's legal adviser Professor Fink Haysom.  

Woods said he still firmly held the belief that the Heath unit had certain powers which would have ensured a comprehensive probe. Of the four bodies, the unit also had the most sweeping resources at its disposal, and Judge Willem Heath had seen the bigger picture from an early stage in the investigation.

Feinstein maintained that the issues surrounding Scopa and the arms package impacted fundamentally on the constitutionally-decreed supervisory role of Parliament towards the executive authority.  


The system was being undermined by a contradiction: members of Parliament were required to act in a supervisory capacity over the executive authority; however, they were members of the same party as the executive authority.

Another crucial issue was whether political parties would allow their members "to think independently" and assume positions in opposition to that of party leadership.

Feinstein contended that the outcome of the arms deal issue would conclusively determine the quality of public office in future.  

With acknowledgement to News24.