Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2001-01-22 Reporter: Editor: Claire Keeton and Own Correspondent

Is Thabo just an Anagram for Botha?

Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2001-01-22
Editor Claire Keeton and Own Correspondent
Web Link

PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki's bizarre decision to exclude the country's leading anti-corruption watchdog from a probe into the state’s shady R43bn arms deal has raised fresh doubts over his commitment to transparency.

Mbeki has come under massive fire from opposition parties, religious groups and a groundswell of public opinion after his petulant announcement last week that he would exclude Judge Willem Heath and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) from the arms probe.

As public fears of a massive government cover-up of corruption grow, Patricia de Lille, the feisty parliamentarian who ripped the veil off shady goings-on in the deal, has received death threats - and graft-busting judge Heath said he fully expects apartheid-era style state raids on his office to recover secret documents.

De Lille, an MP for the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), said she was more concerned about her family than herself, "but people must just know that taking me out will not stop this. Many other people have the same information," she said.

A number of politicians from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) are suspected of receiving kickbacks from foreign arms dealers in handing out contracts for helicopters, corvettes and missiles.

Gavin Woods, chairman of parliament’s public accounts committee, told the Afrikaans weekly Rapport that he has information that shows the need to have an independent inquiry into the deal.

"The government does not know what information I have. We'll see who is right. The government potentially faces a crisis over this," the newspaper quoted Woods as saying.

Woods' reaction comes after a strongly-worded letter from Deputy President Jacob Zuma, following Woods's request that the Heath Commission be included in the investigation into alleged corruption surrounding the arms deal.

In the letter Zuma challenged Woods to lay charges with the police and the speaker if he had information linking any person, including cabinet members, to the alleged corruption.

ANC members of the committee on public accounts will today have to choose between either the inclusion of Heath’s unit in the investigation, or toeing the party line.

Woods, said he had "quiet confidence" that most committee members would stand by the commission's report, but added that he would "not be surprised" if they change their minds.

Heath, who was castigated by Mbeki for withholding information given to him by whistleblowers, said he refused to compromise the identities of his informants, and expected the government would attempt to obtain the information by raiding his offices.

With acknowledgement to Claire Keeton and Daily Mail & Guardian.