Under Tight Control
The sidelining by the African National Congress of Andrew Feinstein, head of its public accounts committee study group, should not come as a huge surprise.
The party's leaders in government have chosen to deal with the arms package probe by keeping as tight control over it as possible, rather than risking the broad investigation envisaged by the committee in the days before "confusion" set in about what it had decided. Seen against this background, the continued leadership of the committee's ANC component by a somewhat independent spirit was clearly untenable for party bosses.
We may never know government's true motives. Its approach may stem from a kneejerk defensive decision aimed at damage control, rather than a more sinister cover-up of widespread corruption. This is a common, though usually counterproductive, instinct among political parties worldwide.
Either way, Feinstein's demotion has severely damaged the committee's standing as a key instrument of ensuring government accountability. His replacement, ANC deputy chief whip Geoff Doidge, is not necessarily less capable than Feinstein. Indeed, Doidge was a well-regarded member of the committee during the 1990s.
But the new ANC team's credibility is scarred by the implicit threat to its members' career paths should they find themselves crossing their party leaders in government while carrying out their duty of overseeing state finances. Feinstein's fate can leave little doubt of that.
Most alarming is the new role of chief whip Tony Yengeni in overseeing the work of the ANC's public accounts study group. As the former defence portfolio committee head who shepherded through Parliament the defence review on which the arms package was based, Yengeni could well find himself involved in the probe.
His presence in the study group would be as stark a conflict of interest as it is possible to imagine in Parliament. To avoid compounding the controversy, he should recuse himself forthwith.
With acknowledgement to AFP and Business Day.