Heath Commission Vital to Weapons Deal Probe
A potentially acrimonious and divisive controversy is brewing over the apparent reluctance of the ANC-led government to involve the Heath Commission in a comprehensive investigation into the R43bn arms deal - in contravention of the unanimously expressed wish of the parliamentary public accounts committee, on which the ANC has a majority.
The destructive potential of the incipient dispute is increased by suspicions, voiced by Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille, that Public Protector Selby Baqwa and National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka are actively working to exclude Judge Willem Heath's commission. If so, they have aligned themselves against the public accounts committee's recommendation for a multi-agency inquiry by the Heath Commission, the Public Protector's Office, the National Directorate of Prosecutions and the Office of the Auditor-General.
The situation is further complicated by a Constitutional Court ruling that for a judge to head the commission - which falls under the aegis of the executive - is unconstitutional as it violates the constitutionally enshrined doctrine of the separation of powers. But that ruling cannot be used as an excuse for excluding the commission from the investigation into the arms deal as it will come into operation only at the end of the year and, even then, will not affect the functioning of the unit, provided it is not led by a sitting judge.
The increasingly firmly held deduction in opposition circles is that ANC party barons want to exclude the Heath Commission for political rather than procedural reasons, that Heath and his commission are feared because of their zeal in rooting out corruption.
It is a deduction that President Thabo Mbeki should refute by issuing the necessary proclamation to enable the Heath Commission to fulfil its role in what may well be the most important inquiry since the ANC came to power.
With acknowledgement to Financial Mail.