Publication: Saturday Independent Issued: Date: 2001-01-12 Reporter: Editor: Jean le May and Sapa

Ministers Stand Firm on Arms Deal

Publication  Saturday Independent
Date 2001-01-12
Editor Jean le May and Sapa

Judge Willem Heath's special investigative unit is expected to be barred from any probe into the controversial R43-billion arms deal. 

This follows Friday's statement at a media conference attended by four cabinet ministers that the cabinet believed firmly in the integrity of its controversial arms acquisition programme.

Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota said the government wished to set the record straight in the light of persistent allegations and media reports that the arms programme was flawed and that several of the contracts involved corruption. 

'Government therefore rejects ... the allegations of corruption' No single individual had decided what to buy or at what cost, Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin said.

The crucial decisions were made by a cabinet sub-committee consisting of himself, Lekota, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Public Enterprises Minister Jeff Radebe, who were also at the conference.

"Government therefore rejects with contempt the allegations of corruption," Erwin said.

The deal still cost R30,3-billion and not R43-billion as had been said recently, he said. Manuel said the difference was the result of a misunderstanding by the parliamentary standing committee on public accounts. 

Smuts Ngonyama, spokesperson for the African National Congress, virtually handed a red card to Heath as far as the arms probe was concerned when he said on a radio talk show the judge had compromised himself by "hobnobbing" with opposition political parties and was touting for the job of investigating the arms deal.

The Catholic Church on Friday added its voice to calls for the Heath unit to be involved in the probe. 

Spokesperson for the Catholic church's Veritas media service Father Emil Blaser said: "It is regrettable that while a recommendation from the Justice Ministry is still awaited, ANC spokesman Mr Smuts Ngonyama has already indicated his party will mobilise opposition, and has seen fit publicly to speak disparagingly of Judge Heath.

"An impression is created Mr Heath will be blocked, the investigation will be weakened, and somebody has something hide."

With acknowledgement to Jean le May, Sapa and Saturday Independent.