Furore Over Claims of a Bid to Scupper Arms Probe
Cape Town - The Minister in the Office of the Presidency Essop Pahad on Monday denied that he had tried to scupper an investigation into South Africa's controversial R43 billion arms deal.
Speaking on the SAFM radio show, AM Live, Pahad lashed out at people who he accused of "spying" for the media. He said what was more annoying was that the information supplied by these "spies" was totally incorrect.
On Sunday, the African National Congress (ANC) also rejected the reports. ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said an allegation that Pahad had, at one of the party's committee meetings, tried to stop the probe was designed to undermine the ANC's fight against corruption. He described it as a "blanket lie".
The Sunday Independent newspaper quoted unnamed ANC sources as saying that Pahad had at a party meeting last week attempted to derail the proposed investigation. He had argued that President Thabo Mbeki had been named in the allegations and that the probe could tarnish his image.
According to the report, however, Deputy President Jacob Zuma had apparently rebuffed the move, saying it was the president's brother named in allegations and that the investigation should go ahead. The allegation comes on the eve of a meeting between parliament's watchdog public accounts committee and five investigative units to map out a strategy for a joint forensic audit into the arms deal.
"This insinuation is aimed at undermining the ANC's commitment to fighting corruption and our principle of good governance and transparency," Ngonyama said. Pahad had never suggested that the investigation be stopped, Ngonyama contended.
"The ANC regards this deliberate misrepresentation as yet another attempt to demonise the organisation and its leadership," he said. Pahad was "unavailable" for comment, his spokesperson Nthabiseng Rantao said. In its response, the Democratic Alliance said it was unthinkable that Pahad wanted to stop the investigation. "Who does he want to protect? The public has a right to know," DA spokesman Hennie Smit said in a statement.
The investigation had to proceed irrespective of who was to be investigated "even if it means that persons high up in government, or those related to them, have to be exposed", he said. Meanwhile, public accounts committee chairperson Gavin Woods told Sapa that Monday's meeting could be the final step to one of the biggest investigations in South Africa's history.
The committee last month released a report calling for a super investigation into all aspects of the procurement deal. He said he was satisfied that by the end of the discussions the committee would establish the conceptual structure for the forensic audit.
Asked how high the accusations of corruption spread, Woods said: "If every allegation we have is fact it [the probe] has the potential to be the biggest investigation ever in South Africa." "But we hope that all [the allegations] do not have substance."
Woods said that the committee had decided that it would be improper at this stage to disclose any individual or company implicated in the allegations. The probe, he said, should be completed within six months, but this would depend on what was uncovered. He added that while there had been no direct pressure put on him, some people had made it clear that they were unhappy with the investigation proceeding.
The meeting - set for 2pm in the Pretoria office of the auditor-general - was expected to include Judge Willem Heath, the head of the Heath Special Investigative Unit, auditor-general Shauket Fakie, the Investigating Directorate of Serious Economic Offences, Public Protector Selby Baqwa and representatives for the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
In its report into the deal released last month, the committee took Cabinet to task for failing to disclose that the costs of the deal could escalate, saying it believed there may have been "undue influence" in awarding the prime contracts.
The cost of the deal was originally estimated at R30.3 billion, but in September the price - when including exchange rate and inflation costs - rose to R43.8 billion. The deal, signed in late 1999, has been the subject of repeated corruption claims.
The probe was initiated following Fakie's special report to Parliament earlier this year, which found that generally accepted procurement practices were not followed. Fakie also recommended a special forensic audit into the deal's subcontracts. - Sapa
With acknowledgement to Sapa and News24.