Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-01-17 Reporter: Farouk Chothia, Linda Ensor Jonathan Katzenellenbogen Editor:

International Group Petitions Mbeki

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-01-17
Reporter Farouk Chothia, Linda Ensor
Jonathan Katzenellenbogen
Web Link

Transparency International hints unit can work without Judge Heath

TRANSPARENCY International's SA chapter wrote to President Thabo Mbeki yesterday urging him to include the Heath unit in the arms probe, and hinting that the unit could proceed without Judge Willem Heath as its head.

Richard Wilkinson, the local chairman of the international corruption- monitoring agency, said Justice Minister Penuell Maduna's recommendation to exclude the unit was not sound. Mbeki should make a "paradigm shift" by appointing the unit to join in "this important inquiry".

He emphasised that too much attention was placed on Heath, the unit's head, rather than its "excellent work".

"The perception locally and internationally is that the integrity of the government is in question," Wilkinson said.

SA ranked poorly on the corruption perception index, and institutional investors were looking at "integrity, accountability and good governance". SA could not afford to exclude any anticorruption agency that could contribute to the investigation, Wilkinson said in an interview.

Mbeki is likely to announce his final decision today. Heath will write to Mbeki today to outline his viewpoint.

Parliamentary speaker Frene Ginwala, a patron of Transparency SA, hit back at the body for intervening. "Its remit is not to say to the country that this is the way to do it," Ginwala said.

Ginwala said she "did not know it (Transparency SA) was an expert on the constitution". It should focus on ensuring a proper investigation took place, rather than who was doing it.

She said the Heath unit had a huge workload, and "maybe" another unit with similar powers should be formed to assist the investigation.

Maduna has said he sees no need at this stage to establish another unit. This would create legal problems as current law specified that such a unit should be headed by a judge.

Mbeki's economics adviser, Wiseman Nkuhlu, also serves on Transparency SA's board. He could not be reached for comment.

Several traders and analysts said the handling of the arms deal inquiry could become a concern in time.

An adviser to foreigners on SA investment matters, Debbie Harper of Economic Portraits, said she was finding increasing interest among her clients in the controversy: "This is certainly something that investors will be watching closely."

Meanwhile, Public Protector Selby Baqwa confirmed yesterday that four agencies involved in the inquiry had decided last month that the Heath unit should not be involved.

The meeting between Baqwa, a representative of the auditor-general's office, director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and the head of the investigating directorate for serious economic offences, Leonard McCarthy, came days after a meeting called by Parliament's public accounts committee.

At this, the same agencies agreed that Heath would participate, according to committee chairman Gavin Woods. Woods said he found it "very strange" that they had met separately and called for the exclusion of the Heath unit, without informing the committee of their change of view.

Baqwa's office denied yesterday he had changed his mind or that political pressure had been brought to bear on him to do so. At no stage had he expressed an opinion on the appropriateness of the unit's involvement.

Sources close to the investigation said yesterday that Mbeki had called Auditor-General Shauket Fakie to a meeting to explain why he had recommended a forensic investigation into the arms probe. Fakie is a constitutionally autonomous official.

Spokesmen for Fakie and the presidency yesterday denied any knowledge of such a meeting.

With acknowledgement to Farouk Chothia, Linda Ensor, Jonathan Katzenellenbogen and Business Day.