Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2001-03-26 Reporter: Own Reporter Editor:

Suspicious Minds

Publication  Business Day
Date 2001-03-26
Reporter Own Reporter
Web Link

AMID the fuss over the exclusion of the Special Investigative Unit from the probe into the R30bn arms procurement programme, and the upheavals this triggered in the parliamentary standing committee on public accounts, some other essentials are in danger of being overlooked.  

Four months after the joint investigation by the auditor-general, public protector and National Directorate of Public Prosecutions was initiated, precious little co-ordinated investigative work seems to have been done. 

We would hope the meeting scheduled for today between their heads Shauket Fakie, Selby Baqwa and Bulelani Ngcuka provides some impetus. The urgency of the inquiry was underlined over the weekend with allegations that ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni received a luxury motor vehicle from one of the subcontractors in the deal.  

Unfortunately, government's management of the affair has been ham-handed from the early intervention by minister Essop Pahad, to the exclusion of the SIU and the strong-arming of the ANC members of the public accounts committee who initiated the probe.  

This has raised questions over whether government is seeking to sweep it all under the carpet. The political mismanagement of the affair has created a situation where investigators will find it difficult, whatever they do, to satisfy public opinion fully.  

In the circumstances, it will not be long before the delays start looking like deliberate foot dragging. For the same reason, the investigating troika will have to tread carefully in deciding how best to pursue their task. Talk of convening a public inquiry at this stage, even a full-scale judicial one, will raise further suspicions of an attempt to preempt a thorough forensic investigation.  

A judicial inquiry might have a role at some stage perhaps with a view to recommending better ways of handing arms procurements in future. But it cannot precede, or be a substitute for, a proper criminal investigation by the directorate and a focused, comprehensive probe by the auditor-general into matters affecting state funds.  

With acknowledgment to Business Day.