Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2001-01-20 Reporter: Own Correspondent Editor:

Irate Mbeki Censures Heath on TV 

Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2001-01-20
Reporter Own Correspondent
Web Link

PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki announced on Friday that he had decided that Judge Willem Heath's special investigating unit would not be included in the probe into the government's R43bn arms acquisition programme.

In a broadcast on SABC television news on Friday night, the president said government could not allow a organ of the executive to "run out of control."

"It is also clear that we cannot allow the situation to continue where an organ appointed by and accountable to the executive refuses to accept the authority of the executive," Mbeki said.

"This situation of ungovernability will not be allowed to continue. Further, the Constitutional Court has directed that we act without undue delay to replace Judge Heath with somebody else who is not a judge. This directive of the Constitutional Court will be carried out as soon as Parliament reconvenes at the beginning of February."

Heath had also refused to provide certain information to Mbeki and Justice Minister Penuell Maduna saying it "would jeopardise the investigation, lead to victimisation of whistle-blowers and threaten the lives of potential witnesses".

"This is Judge Heath's view of our government and president," a visibly angry Mbeki said.

He said two senior advocates, Jan Lubbe and Cape director of public prosecutions Frank Kahn, had "found no prima facie evidence of criminal misconduct" in the contracts or processes that led to their conclusion.

Reacting to Mbeki's announcement in an live interview, Heath said he was not surprised by the president's decision, "but of course I am disappointed. I know many other people in the country are disappointed. We were merely trying to protect the interests of the country as well as that of the government."
Meanwhile, leaders of several religions in South Africa met with Mbeki on Friday to emphasise the need for transparency concerning the probe, the SA Council of Churches said in a statement on Saturday.

"They (religious leaders) expressed concern that this was being clouded by the intensity of the debate surrounding the role of the Heath Unit in the investigation being set up," the SACC said.

"Having had to interpret the conflicting messages has contributed largely to the confusion that reigns and has resulted in the nation becoming divided on the crucial issue of corruption.

The SACC said that the delegation urged the president to define the roles of the auditor general, public protector, the director of public prosecutions as well as the Heath Special Investigative Unit "which are unclear in the minds of the public.

"Whether unfounded or not, the public perception exists that a cover-up is being shaped, that our democratic institutions are being undermined, that mischievous and misleading forces may be at work and that correct procedures could have been flaunted," the council said.

With acknowledgment to Daily Mail and Guardian.