Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-03-23 Reporter: Editor: Farouk Chothia

Plan for Public Arms Deal Hearing Causes Concern

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-03-23
Editor Farouk Chothia
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THE national director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, and public protector Selby Baqwa are pushing for a public hearing into the R43bn arms deal, raising fear that this could jeopardise a full-blown investigation.  

The parliamentary public accounts committee had asked Ngcuka, Baqwa and Auditor-General Shauket Fakie to jointly investigate the arms deal. The request was made about four months ago, but a source said yesterday a decision on how exactly they would divide aspects of the investigation would be taken on Monday when Fakie, Ngcuka and Baqwa meet. The source said the reason for the delay was unclear, but suggested that the three agencies had their "plates full" dealing with other issues. The Heath special investigating unit was to have been part of the probe, but the executive blocked its involvement.  

The source said that there remained a lack of clarity on who would investigate the deal's subcontracts the area where government has faced the most serious allegations. A decision on who would handle the subcontracts probe would also be taken at Monday's meeting.  

The source said Fakie had an open mind on the idea, and believed that the advantages and disadvantages of public hearings should be considered at the meeting.  

Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille criticised the plan. She knew that parliamentarians convened public hearings, but she had never heard of investigators doing so. People with information on alleged corruption would not be so "stupid" as to go to a public hearing, she said.  

It is understood that Ngcuka came up with the idea, and was supported by Baqwa. They apparently believe that a public hearing would signal transparency. Witnesses would give evidence, and those accused would be given an opportunity to respond. Critics fear that this could turn the probe into a "public circus" and put lives of witnesses at risk.  

The source said the investigation was at the stage where documents were being sought from various entities, including government departments. The exact size of the investigation team would be finalised on Monday. Investigators needed security clearance from official agencies. The process of getting this was under way, the source said. 

With acknowledgement to Farouk Chothia and Business Day.