Maduna Decision Slammed
CAPE TOWN - Opposition parties yesterday criticised Justice Minister Penuell Maduna's announcement that he would recommend to President Thabo Mbeki that the Heath Special Investigating Unit be excluded from the probe into the government's controversial R43 billion weapons procurement deal.
Judge Willem Heath's office said he would react later this week, as did the chairman of Parliament's watchdog public accounts standing committee, Dr Gavin Woods, of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon said Maduna "had become notorious for his bad judgment" and Mbeki would be "well advised to ignore" Maduna's advice on this issue.
Maduna's reference to a Constitutional Court finding was "spurious", Leon said, adding: "The court judgment allows a year for the situation to be corrected -- for the head of the unit not to be a judge -- and while Judge Heath is still head of the unit, he must be allowed to do his work."
The importance of the inclusion of the unit was due to its perceived independence of government. Excluding the unit diminished the legitimacy and transparency of the investigation, Leon said.
"If everything is above board in the arms deal, if there is nothing to hide, why is the ANC so nervous? Are they suggesting that Judge Heath would manufacture evidence that does not exist?"
Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille also called on Mbeki to reject the recommendation.
The government would be "shooting itself in the foot" if it accepted the recommendation, she said.
It was De Lille who six months ago first accused the ANC of trying to exclude Heath from the arms deal probe and who recently threatened to take legal action against Mbeki if he was excluded.
She said yesterday the investigation would not stand or fall by the inclusion or exclusion of Heath's unit, but by the principles of transparency and accountability being violated by the government. "At issue is the constitutional accountability of the executive to Parliament."
The PAC would await a statement by Mbeki on whether he would issue the necessary promulgation to Judge Heath for his unit's inclusion in the parliamentary investigation before it proceeded with legal action in court.
"It is unfortunate that the ANC has personalised the matter of Judge Heath's inclusion rather than looking at the legal competencies of the unit. To exclude him now will signal to the international community that democracy is under attack, and that corruption is rampant in South Africa," De Lille said.
IFP defence spokesman Velaphi Ndlovu said he was "outraged and very concerned because the executive is now running Parliament. I don't know why Maduna wants to remove Heath's unit from the investigation".
Ndlovu said Maduna had argued that Heath was already investigating 200 000 cases, but it did not matter how many cases there were.
"If Heath's unit is needed the government should not stand in the way where public money has been misused or the investigation of public money is concerned," Ndlovu said.
He said Parliament's public accounts committee had recommended the Heath unit be one of four agencies to probe the arms deal.
Woods said late yesterday afternoon that he had received a copy of the letter from Maduna to Mbeki that had been issued to the media. He was about to analyse it and to consult colleagues, and could give no reaction at that stage.
He said he bore a great responsibility to the committee and to Parliament.
"I want to be quite clear before I say anything," he said.
A spokesman for the unit said Heath was out of the country on business and would be back only on Thursday.
A media conference was scheduled in Johannesburg on Thursday morning.
Heath had indicated that he alone would make public statements on the issue, and there would be no reaction before Thursday.
With acknowledgement to Sapa and the Daily Dispatch.