Heath Decision : ANC Members Under Pressure
|Reporter||Christi van der Westhuizen|
Cape Town - ANC members of the watchdog committee on public accounts are facing an acid test on Monday when they have to choose between either the inclusion of the Heath Special Investigative Unit in the investigation into the government's R43 billion arms deal, or toeing the party line.
IFP MP and chairperson of the committee, Gavin Woods, said he had "quiet confidence" that most committee members would stand by the commission's report, but added that he would "not be surprised" if they change their minds.
He was fearing for his position after the "hostile letter" of Deputy President Jacob Zuma in which Zuma alleged that Woods had acted outside the mandate of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
Woods is to recommend that Zuma and some cabinet ministers be called before the committee to test their criticism on a report which recommended that several watchdog bodies, including the Heath unit, be included in the investigation.
"The parliament must then decide what to do about the executive's unfair criticism. The executive is accountable to parliament.
"It is out of order for the Deputy President to ask Scopa for proof [in Zuma's letter to Woods]. It can lead to a constitutional dispute."
President Thabo Mbeki's announcement on Friday that the Heath unit would be excluded from the investigating team, was in direct conflict with the committee's recommendations approved by parliament last year.
Speaker of parliament, Frene Ginwala, will attend the first committee meeting on Monday where she is expected to put pressure on members to adhere to Mbeki's decision.
Ginwala is of the opinion that the Scopa report only recommends an "investigative meeting" between the watchdog bodies (the Public Protector, Auditor-General, Office for Serious Economic Offences and the Heath unit) and does not request the executive to appoint the Heath unit as part of the investigating team.
Woods on Sunday said that journalists, legal experts and linguistics differed from Ginwala. If she managed to convince ANC members of the committee of her view point, it could lead to a no-confidence vote in Woods because then he would have incorrectly conveyed the committee's position during parliamentary recess in December.
Woods said the controversy surrounding Heath was unfortunate, because the unit was never chosen because of Heath's personality. The committee would have been just as upset if any of the other investigating bodies were excluded. The Heath unit was chosen because it had specific civil investigating powers such as a special tribunal, and officers with specific experience.
The PAC is also to approach the Supreme Court for judgment on the powers of the executive and the legislature.
According to PAC MP Patricia de Lille, President Mbeki and members of his cabinet had created a "constitutional crisis" because the constitution stipulated that the executive was accountable to parliament and not the other way around.
"The executive is in contempt of parliament's recommendations. It is clear that ministers have no respect for parliament. Parliament represents the country's people, which means that cabinet ignores the wishes of the people.
With acknowledgment to Christi van der Westhuizen and News24.