Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-01-25 Reporter: Editor:

Late Entry of Heath Unit a Possibility

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-01-25
Reporter Wyndham Hartley
Web Link

CAPE TOWN African National Congress (ANC) members of Parliament's public accounts committee hinted yesterday that the special investigating unit, with or without Judge Willem Heath, could still play a role in the R43bn arms deal probe.

ANC MP Vincent Smith indicated that the unit could be included at a later stage. He said it was the original intention to have all agencies involved, but if the legality of one was in doubt that should be rectified to allow its participation later.

He was clearly referring to the Heath unit, which cannot participate as a result of President Thabo Mbeki's refusal to grant the unit a proclamation.

Other ANC sources indicated that the problem was more with Heath than with his unit. It was possible a recommendation could be made to include the unit under different leadership.

ANC MPs joined opposition members in insisting the probe should proceed with the remaining three agencies, and joined in calling four cabinet ministers to explain their criticism of the committee.

However, some division remained along party lines on at least two key issues. All parties agreed that a subcommittee should be set up to "reconstruct" the events which led to the current situation, particularly concerning the inclusion of the Heath unit. But members differed on whether the subcommittee's meetings should be public or private.

The ANC and the United Democratic Movement wanted the subcommittee to work in closed session, as is the norm with public accounts subcommittees, while the Democratic Alliance's Raenette Taljaard wanted all meetings concerning the arms deal open to the public and media.

Parties were also divided on whether Deputy President Jacob Zuma should be called to the committee to explain his criticism of the committee's work. Zuma's criticism has been seen as an attack on the sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers.

The key issues the committee looked at yesterday centred on what was decided at a public accounts committee meeting on November 11, during an "exploratory" meeting with the four agencies involved the Heath unit, the public protector, the auditor-general and the investigating directorate for serious economic offences.

Gavin Woods, the Inkatha Freedom Party's committee chairman, said he remembered that he was mandated after the meeting to tell the media all four bodies were needed and that investigative co-operation was a reality.

However, ANC MPs disagreed. Bruce Kannemeyer said that Woods's integrity was beyond reproach, but he remembered the November 11 meeting differently. He said it was never agreed that if one of the four agencies was missing it would cast doubt on the committee's ability to investigate the arms deal.

He said the intention of the meeting was to invite the four agencies in order to prepare a brief for the investigation.

The head of the ANC on the committee, Andrew Feinstein, said that both interpretations were held with conviction and integrity and the subcommittee should clarify the position. He said it was essential that the three units currently involved should proceed with the investigation.

All parties committed themselves to the traditions of nonpartisan deliberation which have characterised the workings of the committee.


With acknowledgement to Wyndham Hartley and Business Day.