Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2001-03-18 Reporter: Editor: Dennis Cruywagen

Lets's Set the Record Straight on the "ANC Poodles"

Publication  Sunday Times
Date 2001-03-18
Editor Dennis Cruywagen
Web Link

'The public accounts committee has become yet another platform for the DP to continue with its policy of opposing everything the ANC does' 

The Sunday Times article "ANC poodles obey their master's voice" (March 4) asserted that ANC members of the standing committee on public accounts came under pressure to fall in line after executives in the form of President Thabo Mbeki and Deputy President Jacob Zuma had stepped into the fray. 

This is not true. Neither the President nor the Deputy President has exerted any pressure on members to fall in line. In fact, our position is that the investigation into the arms deal must be thorough, transparent and beyond reproach. I also fail to understand the justification for using the headline. There was no reference in the copy to "ANC poodles" being instructed to obey their masters. Was it a case of personal bias or even prejudice creeping in? 

Let's set the record straight on committees of Parliament. 

No committee is independent. Political parties are represented on committees in some proportion to their representation in the National Assembly. Despite having 64.4% of the seats in the National Assembly, the ANC representation on the public accounts committee is less than this. Why? Because we want the smaller parties to be represented and thereby ensure that the voice of the electorate they represent is heard. 

Members of committees are accountable to their parties. Any party can change its representation if it feels it wants a stronger voice. This was the reason the Democratic Party changed its team on the public accounts committee. According to Douglas Gibson, this was done to beef up DP representation.

Now the committee has become yet another platform for the DP to continue with its policy of opposing everything the ANC does. 

The issue considered at the meeting the article refers to was whether the intention of the National Assembly had been that Judge Willem Heath should be part of the investigation into arms procurement.

This was largely an academic exercise. 

First, in her appearance before the committee, the Speaker, Frene Ginwala, said her interpretation of the resolution was that the Special Investigating Unit should not be involved. The parliamentary law advisers supported her. Despite this, certain parties insisted on debating the matter. Obviously, they wanted to gain political mileage. 

ANC members on the committee felt that it had far too much oversight work to perform on the arms deal as well as on other Auditor-General's reports. The ANC tried to accommodate these parties by suggesting that parties agree to disagree on the intention. Both the chairman of the committee and the DP rejected this proposal. 

The only way out of the impasse was to vote, as it was important that the matter be resolved so that the committee could examine the evidence relating to the arms deal. 

As for the reference to the so-called Nel commission, the article gives the impression that the only matter worthy of Parliament's attention in the Public Protector's 200-page report was the issue of Minister Penuell Maduna's statements. The fact of the matter is that Maduna had not only apologised but withdrawn his remarks about the then Auditor-General. The committee chaired by Nel was faced with the question of whether there was any provision which would enable Parliament to sanction a member further after he had withdrawn his remarks and apologised. The committee was placed in the invidious position of having to be judge, jury, prosecutor, executioner and lawmaker. 

Not wanting to set any precedents in matters dealing with important constitutional issues, the committee, not surprisingly, declined to wear all these hats. 

The Sunday Times article makes much of the ANC using its majority and suggests that the report was steamrollered through the committee. But it ignores the fact that the DP had tabled its so-called minority report before the committee formally had any report. 

Far from betraying the Constitution, the committee has come forward with constructive proposals for finding proper solutions to these matters. 

Cruywagen is the spokesman for ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni

With acknowledgement to Dennis Cruywagen and the Sunday Times.