Millions Needed to Fund Multi-Agency Arms Probe
Cape Town (Sapa) - Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee may have to find millions of rands from either parliament or outside sources to help bankroll a super investigation into the controversial R30-billion arms deal, it was announced on Tuesday.
This emerged after a meeting in Pretoria on Monday between Judge Willem Heath; Auditor-General Shauket Fakie; Public Protector Selby Baqwa; and Glenda Ferreira, a representative of the Investigating Directorate: Serious Economic Offences, which falls under National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka's office.
Of the four agencies, only Ngcuka's office has budgeted funds for such an investigation, with the other cash-strapped agencies expected to need supplementary funding for what is arguably going to be the largest investigation in the country's history.
The cost factor was put on the meeting's agenda by the auditor-general's office, a source close to the process told Sapa on Tuesday. Committee members acknowledged that they may have erred by not including the issue in the committee's resolution adopted by parliament earlier this month.
It called for a multi-agency probe into the R30-billion arms deal. The source told Sapa that committee chairman Dr Gavin Woods was mandated at Monday's meeting to approach Parliament's presiding officers about the matter.
The cost of the proposed investigation will be one of the issues to be thrashed out by the four agencies over the next two days before they report back to the public accounts committee. Approached for comment, Woods told Sapa that the agencies would be meeting independently of his committee. Among other things, the agencies would try to "get a feel for costs".
Woods was unable to estimate the cost of the investigation, as it was not known at this stage how wide the probe would be. The costs, however, are xpected to be huge, as investigators will also have to look beyond the country's borders.
Woods dismissed concern in some quarters that the cost of the deal might give the ruling African National Congress ammunition to scupper or at least water down the probe. "The investigation has to happen. The public demand it. To the extent the agencies can't fund it from their own budgets, we will have to find other ways to supplement it." Among the options would be for parliament, which adopted the resolution, to finance the probe from its own budget. A member of the committee told Sapa the public accounts committee's function needed to be bolstered by adequate resources.
Other options for supplementary funding included a direct appeal to the Treasury for more funds, the department of defence's budget, and even funding from some of the aggrieved parties to the deal who have alleged widespread corruption.
Meanwhile, for a second day in a row, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad has publicly denied that he attempted to derail the proposed investigation. This also follows similar denials by the ANC. Pahad said in a statement on Tuesday that the claims sought to undermine the ANC's commitment to rooting out corruption and fostering good governance.
He labelled the ANC sources who tipped off a Sunday newspaper as "impimpis", a derogatory term used for apartheid era sellouts, and said the informants were guilty of "calculated lies". His statement was silent on whether he planned to root out the informants.
Pahad again attacked the senior journalists for not attempting to get his side of the story before printing the allegations. "This elementary fairness is increasingly being denied to the representatives of a democratic government, and this situation can only be described as a journalistic disgrace.
"The effect will be to stifle free and critical debate in political quarters, and this will impact severely on all political parties," Pahad said. The Sunday Independent, quoting ANC sources, reported that at last week's meeting of the party's governance committee, Pahad spoke out strongly against the proposed investigation.
Pahad had stated that President Thabo Mbeki had been named in the allegations before parliament's watchdog public accounts committee, and that to allow the probe to proceed would tarnish his image, the newspaper reported.
Deputy President Jacob Zuma apparently rebuffed Pahad's argument, saying it was not the president who was named in the allegations, but his brother, and that the president would undoubtedly want the probe to go ahead so that his family name could be cleared.
With acknowledgement to Sapa and Woza.