Watchdog Cleaved Along Party Lines
Opposition groups in public accounts committee say ANC backtracked
CAPE TOWN African National Congress (ANC) members of Parliament's public accounts committee were yesterday accused by opposition parties of having backtracked on their original support for the involvement of the Heath unit in a multi-agency probe into the R43bn arms deal.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) and African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) charged the ANC members with submitting to pressure from the executive for the unit's exclusion, but chairman of the ANC public accounts study group Andrew Feinstein denied this.
The conflicting views on the resolution, to be explored at a committee meeting tomorrow, represented a rift in the traditionally nonpartisan committee along party lines, committee chairman Gavin Woods said at a multiparty media conference after a committee meeting yesterday.
All parties agreed that the four cabinet ministers who expressed a wish to meet the committee Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin, Public Enterprises Minister Jeff Radebe and Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota as well as Deputy President Jacob Zuma should be called to state their views. This will also be on the agenda of tomorrow's meeting, which will deal with all the issues and disputes, including constitutional ones.
The ANC's statement said the committee's report to the National Assembly "did not in any way single out any of the investigative bodies as institutions that must be appointed".
The statement, drafted by Feinstein, deputy chief whip of the national assembly Geoff Doidge and chief whip of the National Council of Provinces Enver Surtee, in effect justified the decision of President Thabo Mbeki to exclude the Heath unit from the investigation.
Feinstein denied the ANC group had reneged on its original position and reaffirmed the ANC's strong support for a comprehensive investigation.
But committee chairman Gavin Woods accused the ANC of playing with words, reiterating his belief the committee's resolution did in fact recommend a multi-agency probe, including the Heath unit. His view was supported by DA public accounts spokeswoman Raenette Taljaard, the United Democratic Movement's Gerhard Koornhof and ACDP MP Louis Green.
Woods said he had staked his reputation on this interpretation and had been attacked by the executive for it. He had done so on the basis that all committee members had voted individually in favour of the involvement of four agencies at an exploratory meeting of the committee.
The committee's resolution read as follows: "In noting the complex and cross-cutting nature of the areas to be investigated the committee feels that the investigation would be best served by combining a number of areas of investigative expertise and a number of differing areas of legal competence and authority.
"It therefore recommends that an exploratory meeting convened by the committee be held within two weeks of the tabling of this report in (the) National Assembly. The auditor-general, the Heath special investigating unit, the public protector, the investigating directorate of serious economic offences and any other appropriate investigative body should be invited so that the best combination of skills, legal mandates and resources can be found for such an investigation."
The ANC said that calling for an exploratory meeting of the agencies did not mean giving them a mandate. But Taljaard said the meeting was a substantive which instructed the agencies.
With acknowledgment to Linda Ensor and Business Day.