Scopa Divided on Arms Deal
Cape Town - Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday ended 2001 just as it had started the year -divided along party political lines on the arms deal.
The African National Congress in the committee called on members to vote on whether to accept their report on the joint investigating team's (JIT) probe into the multi-billion rand deal, when it became clear the parties could not reach consensus.
After lengthy discussions, ANC public accounts spokesperson Vincent Smith said there did not seem any possibility of the parties "finding each other".
"We (the ANC) have tried as hard as possible to persuade people... but I don't think our democracy insists that we need consensus," he said.
ANC members had been careful to avoid accusations of bulldozing the report through the committee and at one stage recommended Scopa sit until consensus was reached, no matter how long that took.
The vote was carried, with all the minority parties voting against adopting the report.
The document will now be referred to the National Assembly.
It forms the seventh instalment of parliament's committees' work on the report of the Auditor-General, Public Protector and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), tabled in parliament last month.
Difficult year for Scopa
The other committees - defence, finance, justice, trade and industry, public service and administration, and ethics - had already completed their work.
Tuesday's vote caps a difficult year for Scopa, which began with members split over whether they had called for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to be involved in the investigation.
The ANC had argued that Scopa's 14th report of November 2000 - requesting a multi-agency probe - had not singled out any particular agency for inclusion.
The party has previously come under fire for using its majority to force through decisions, contrary to the spirit of consensus decision-making which was once the committee's hallmark.
The arms deal was also the reason for Scopa's first vote - in February this year - since the 1994 election.
All the political parties in the committee had earlier on Tuesday tabled their views on the JIT report, but it was clear there were major differences of opinion.
After adjourning for three hours to allow members time to find consensus, all the minority parties indicated they were not prepared to accept the ANC's document.
The DA, UDM, IFP and NNP argued that Scopa had not fulfilled its overseeing role on the arms deal, and recommended further investigations.
They also wanted some Cabinet ministers to appear before the committee.
DA public accounts spokesperson Raenette Taljaard said the JIT report could not be considered a final report as there were numerous serious shortcomings in the investigation.
The UDM called for an independent judicial commission of inquiry into the deal, while Scopa chairperson Dr Gavin Woods (IFP) said many areas needed further investigation, including the costs of the deal and the offset agreements attached to it.
"(Government) has not told the people of this country what they will have to pay," he said.
Smith, however, ruled out further interaction with the executive, saying that task rested with other parliamentary committees.
The investigators' report was final, but this did not necessarily mean the end of Scopa's overseeing function.
The committee would continue to monitor the ongoing criminal proceedings and other aspects of the deal through financial audits, he said.
The adopted report expresses confidence in the JIT's probe, and appreciation for the "painstaking, diligent and thorough manner" in which it conducted its investigations.
"It affirms its confidence in the capacity, integrity and independence of the three agencies involved in the investigation."
No proof of improper government conduct
It says the committee accepts the report's findings and, in particular, the finding that no evidence was found of improper conduct by the government.
All irregularities identified referred to certain officials and could not be ascribed to any member of the executive.
It further says the committee supports the ongoing criminal investigations, being conducted by the NDPP, and urges that they be concluded "speedily".
Matters of internal controls, proper financial management and accountability should be followed up urgently and government procurement processes should be clearly defined.
Finally, the committee recommends parliament accept the JIT report.
With acknowledgement to News24.